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Local businesses still struggling after Sandy

Hannah Caillier, owner of the Hoboken boutique dear hannah,

Door of the card and gift shop Greetings from Hoboken

Hoboken's PATH train station will be closed for weeks

Monday the Senate debates a $60 billion aid bill for Hurricane Sandy recovery. There are many places affected by the storm that are still working to get back on their feet.

The enduring problems for small businesses are on display in Hoboken, New Jersey. Normally the PATH train station there provides a convenient link to Manhattan, where many Hoboken residents work. But heavy flooding damage means trains won’t be running for weeks, creating a transit crisis that is inconveniencing commuters and strangling local businesses.

Right now the ferry across the Hudson River is the only direct route to Manhattan. Other options require time-consuming transfers. But a ferry ticket can cost as much as $8.50 more than a PATH ride.

“It’s ridiculous,” Tara Weston complains. “I’m spending like $11 one way.”

And her total commute is about half an hour longer. All that extra time and effort by commuters like Weston turns out to be a problem for stores over on Washington Street, Hoboken’s main drag. At dear hannah,, a women’s clothing boutique, owner Hannah Caillier says evening sales have plummeted because drawn out commutes are sapping people’s strength.

“When they do get back home in the evenings, they’re worn out and it’s just too late to shop,” she sighs.

Other businesses on the block report similar drops in evening foot traffic. They’re also losing business from Manhattan residents and tourists. On a normal day, the train ride from Manhattan can take just eight minutes. Cab driver Sergio Binzon often picks up Manhattan visitors from Hoboken’s famed Irish bars. But now he says his business has been cut in half.

“It’s a ghost town,” he says.

He’s exaggerating, of course. Businesses are open and people are buying. But not in the same numbers as usual. A door sign on the Washington Street card and gift shop Greetings from Hoboken pleads “shop local. Help rebuild Hoboken.” The owner describes Hanukkah as a total bust. Sales are down more than a third from this time last year, the crucial holiday shopping season.

“This is really a do or die for a lot of small businesses in Hoboken,” says Jeff Spinardi, who owns the store with his wife.

He’s hoping any aid from Washington, D.C., reaches shopkeepers like him on Washington Street. City Hall is on the same street. Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer testified in the U.S. Senate last week about helping a city with an estimated $100 million in storm damage.

“The funds are really needed,” she says. “It’s very difficult for individuals and businesses right now.”

She’s fighting for grants to businesses and homeowners, transit funding and money to boost flood defense, among other things. Help can’t come soon enough. Washington Street didn’t flood in the storm, but the aftermath’s transit mess has many stores there underwater.

Mark Garrison: Passengers scurry down the ramp to catch the ferry. With the PATH train station closed, this is the only direct route across the Hudson River to Manhattan. Other options require time-consuming transfers. But direct service has its price, and it’s eating into Tara Weston’s budget.

Tara Weston: It’s ridiculous. I’m spending like $11 one way.

That’s a jump of up to $8.50 more than she used to pay. Plus it takes half an hour longer. And the extra time getting back home turns out to be a problem for stores over on Hoboken’s main drag: Washington Street. dear hannah, is a women’s clothing boutique there. Owner Hannah Caillier says drawn out commutes are stifling her customers.

Hannah Caillier: When they do get back home in the evenings, they’re worn out and it’s just too late to shop.

And forget about any shoppers from Manhattan, which is normally just 8 minutes away on the train.

Elsewhere on Washington Street, the door sign on gift shop Greetings from Hoboken pleads “shop local. Help rebuild Hoboken.” Jeff Spinardi owns it with his wife. He says Hanukkah was a total bust. Sales are down more than a third from this time last year, the crucial holiday shopping season.

Jeff Spinardi: This is really a do or die for a lot of small businesses in Hoboken.

He’s hoping any aid from Washington, D.C. reaches shopkeepers on Washington Street.

Spinardi: When you rely on foot traffic and you have none, it’s like, fellas, can you do anything?

City Hall is also on Washington Street. Hoboken mayor Dawn Zimmer testified in the Senate last week about helping a city with an estimated $100 million in storm damage.

Dawn Zimmer: The funds are really needed. It’s very difficult for individuals and businesses right now.

She’s fighting for grants to businesses and funding for transit repair, among other things. Help can’t come soon enough. Washington Street didn’t flood in the storm, but the resulting transportation mess has stores there underwater. In Hoboken, I'm Mark Garrison, for Marketplace.

About the author

Mark Garrison is a reporter and substitute host for Marketplace, based in New York.

Door of the card and gift shop Greetings from Hoboken

Hoboken's PATH train station will be closed for weeks

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