Many of the East Village businesses affected by March’s apparent gas explosion are up and running again.
The massive crime scene that blocked off a portion of Second Avenue for weeks as crews worked to recover the bodies of two men who died — Nicholas Figueroa and Moises Locon — is now reduced to what looks more or less like a construction site behind tall green wood fences, save for the charred neighboring buildings, few remaining police barricades and faint smell of smoke.
And the gaping hole. And the memories.
But for small businesses, like Jimmy’s No. 43 and Via Della Pace — both on East Seventh Street — the days and weeks their shops were closed have created a financial hit they expect to carry with them for the rest of the year, if not longer.
Both have applied for and been approved for emergency funds through Asian Americans for Equality’s small business lending department, called Renaissance Economic Development. The Lower East Side-based nonprofit granted 170 emergency business loans after Hurricane Sandy, and is offering loans up to $50,000 at two percent interest for businesses impacted by the explosion.
James Carbone, who owns beer bar and kitchen Jimmy’s No. 43, 43 East Seventh St., which he estimates is 10 feet away from the blast, thought his biggest concern going into that weekend was the possibility of his main cook’s wife giving birth.
Carbone couldn’t get into his bar for the first week after the explosion because of the police investigation, and he spent the following week cleaning, dehumidifying and drying out the historic bar, as well as coordinating inspections from city agencies.
“I’ve had businesses through 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and relief from FEMA and any other government program I’ve never qualified for,” Carbone said. “We’ve always had to take the loss.”
Carbone said the loan has helped with the “emotional” aftermath of the blast. He said he’s encouraging other neighborhood businesses to apply, and band together to form a merchant’s association.
Carbone’s bar re-opened last Friday night with a limited menu, and he estimated they did about a third of the normal business. But he enjoyed himself, woke up with a headache on Saturday not remembering the past two weeks.
“I have a short term memory, and if I didn’t I would never be in this business,” Carbone joked.
Via Della Pace, across Second Avenue at 48 East Seventh Street, which has been in business the last 13 years, closed for five days following the explosion.
Owners Giovanni Bartocci and Marco Ventura said the lost business came after a long, slow winter, and the memory of Sandy, when the restaurant stayed open with gas but no electricity, cooking for people in the neighborhood and eating by candlelight.
“It changed the heart of the East Village,” Bartocci said of the blast. “We’ll see how long we’re able to keep fighting, but it’s been tough. It’s going to be a very noisy next four years, in summertime I don’t know how many people will want to sit outside and eat with all the noise and the dust.”
“They did a crazy job, and fast,” Bartocci said of the city agencies who stepped in after the blast, including Small Business Services and the 9th Precinct. “So far, we have nothing to complain about, we were expecting for more financial help from the city, but that’s a completely different discussion, and it’s still fresh.”
Small Business Services Deputy Commissioner Robinson Hernandez said 38 businesses were affected by the explosion, six of which were destroyed when the buildings collapsed, and four remain closed but are in the process of re-opening.
Hernandez said SBS is encouraging business owners to take advantage of NYC Business Solutions, a free service that can help identify the best next steps.
“It’s a hit when you have any type of these disasters, and our goal is to be able to help them access services,” Hernandez said.
A business recovery meeting is set for 9:30 a.m. on Tuesday at Middle Collegiate Church, with representative from multiple city agencies and nonprofits.