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.