Though the surging storm waters have receded from the restaurants, shops and small businesses in Piermont’s business district, the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy remain clearly visible.
A walk through the Hudson riverside community on the morning of Nov. 16 yielded glimpses of the destruction’s lingering effects. Some shops remained without power. Others had furniture and equipment, thoroughly trashed by the storm, piled up outside. Signs posted in windows offered status reports and contact details.
And as Piermont Avenue stretched north, a storm-tossed boat was still encroaching a portion of the road.
Destruction was felt at many spots along the Hudson River shoreline in Rockland County, including nearby Nyack, also hit hard. There, The River Club restaurant had a sailboat come right through several windows with strong winds and rushing flood waters causing even more structural damage. (The restaurant has managed to reopen.) The Nyack Boat Club and the Nyack Marina were among other sites also heavily damaged.
In Piermont, damage was concentrated and widespread, touching most everyone in this tight-knit artistic enclave and tourist destination.
Countless basements of businesses, which housed stock, equipment and most often, power sources, were flooded. Inventory on selling floors was ruined, while extended power outages also led to loss of perishables. Officials from varied agencies and assorted politicians have toured the community, securing and bringing help.
A storm leading right into the year-end selling season, though, was a particularly tough element.
“Everyone is disappointed, clearly, as this is a very important time,” said Laura Straus, a member of the Piermont Business Council and owner of Piermont Straus gallery. She said the storm has underlined the camaraderie found here but also the need to forge ahead with creating a chamber of commerce to continue to move forward.
“I do feel that in the most basic ways our focus will be to build that community and make it stronger, make it thrive and give back to the community,” Straus said. “I don’t think there’s any business owner who deeply doesn’t love this village.”
Luring shoppers and diners back to town will be another challenge.
Chris Ham, whose family operates The Community Market, finally got his power back a few days earlier. A generator had allowed him to run a floodlight on the main floor, as the basement was being worked on. As he now waited for a visit from his insurance-company representative, he talked about how hard it will be to bounce back.
“As you can see, it’s pretty dead,” he said. “It’s going to take a while, probably like a few more months.
Lynne Aubrey, who has owned Aubrey Flowers in two locations on Piermont Avenue since 1995, had to replace her flower-and-gift shop’s flooring, repaint and replace much of her merchandise.
“We were able to get back in (Oct. 31) but it was pretty disgusting. … We had to wait for it to dry out,” she said of the mud, sewage and flood waters now all cleaned away.
As she unwrapped merchandise and re-stocked the retail space, she echoed that the storm’s timing has proven especially troubling.
“Most small businesses rely on Christmas for about a third of their income,” she said. “It’s all about small businesses here.”
Luckily, she noted, she also has a thriving segment in doing flowers for parties and special events throughout the year, but the storm still meant a $10,000 to $20,000 hit.
But this unprecedented challenge has not caused Aubrey to consider a relocation.
“People keep saying ‘Why are you rebuilding?’ You can’t leave it. It can’t be a ghost town,” she said.
That spirit pervades, where focus is on recovery right now.
Local carpenter Mitchell Warren was hard at work outside Xaviars at Piermont and Freelance Café, the side-by-side restaurants of noted chef Peter X. Kelly. Warren’s been tapped by a number of Piermont businesses to help with the countless construction projects that will get them back on track.
Warren, who happens to live above the eateries, said the ripple effects of the storm will be felt for a very long time on both the personal and professional levels. His tools, which were stored in space right near the river, are gone.
“I’ve got to work just to replace my tools,” he said.
Help has also come. While a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Disaster Recovery Center was opened Nov. 9 at Provident Bank Park in Pomona, a satellite also opened right at Piermont Village Hall beginning Nov. 17.
And in Piermont, things are slowly bouncing back. Restaurants and shops re-open, events are held. Straus says that the latest exhibition at her Piermont Straus gallery will still open Dec. 8, timed to a larger community happening.
Straus said the Piermont Holiday Festival, with a tree lighting and carols set from 5 to 7 p.m. Dec. 8 at the M&T Bank, will proceed though in “an abbreviated version” – and a special visitor is set to drop in Dec. 9 when the Nyack fire department holds a pancake breakfast in South Nyack that draws many Hudson River community participants.
As Straus said, “The fire company has confirmed, I believe, that Santa Claus is still coming to town.”