When Hurricane Irene blew through New Jersey on the last weekend of August it left the Princeton region without power and left several businesses waterlogged. On one end of the Princeton Junction train station, Alexander Road was closed for four days after the road became a large pond.
On the other side, Flyte Tyme Worldwide Transportation, which had operated at 98 Washington Road, was hit so hard that it had to regroup on higher ground across Route 1.
One lingering business casualty is the Association for the Advancement of Mental Health, the community mental health services provider based at 819 Alexander Road. The organization, which employs 31, including several pyschologists, closed due to flooding and has yet to open its doors. Representatives from AAMH did not return calls. Clients reaching its main number are directed to leave a voice mail or contact their counselor directly through E-mail.
The flooding was not limited to Princeton Junction, of course. Businesses in Lawrenceville, Kingston, and Pennington spent days mopping up the mess and doing their best to stay operating with wet floors and mold.
Design Spree, a furniture store in Lawrenceville, had just opened a month before Irene hit and suffered thousands of dollars in inventory loss and damages.
Some businesses closed for weeks, but ultimately, most bounced back, despite having to deal with deep pools of water, mold, loss of inventory, and lack of flood insurance.
Closed for: Nine Weeks
Damages: All Inventory
When hurricane Irene hit Lawrence Township, it overflowed the canal running besides Route 1 near Baker’s Basin and Franklin Corner roads. The worst business casualty to come from this was Ski Barn, which lost everything.
Co-owner and store manager Beth Fallon said the staff opened the door after the storm to find three feet of water — and dead fish — across the entire store. What inventory had not been destroyed (and there was not much of that) was discarded.
Fallon would not disclose the dollar figure of the damages, but getting the store back to operational took more than just replenishing the inventory. “We had to gut the whole thing,” she says. “We put in new floors, new walls, new bathrooms.”
And a new fireplace to help convey the ski lodge image. Fallon says the store’s flood insurance covered most of the damages, and since Ski Barn has three other locations (in Paramus, Wayne, and Eatontown), the flood was not the devastating setback it could have been. The store re-opened on November 1 to what Fallon says was wide and enthusiastic customer appreciation.
“We’re back and bigger than ever,” she says. “Thank God for flood insurance.”
Ski Barn, 2990 Brunswick Pike, Lawrenceville 08648; 609-530-1666; fax, 609-530-0557. Beth Fallon, owner. www.skibarn.com
#b#The Blue Rooster#/b#
Closed for: Six Weeks
Damages: Nearly $100,000
From the day Hurricane Irene hit until the day the Blue Rooster Cafe & Bakery re-opened on October 8, six weeks had passed. Had you opened the basement door immediately following the storm, you would have been greeted by eight feet of water — up to the rafters and drowning everything from the heating and electrical systems to $25,000 worth of inventory and equipment. Six weeks later there was still no central heat and nagging electrical issues persisted.
And there was no flood insurance. The Blue Rooster does not lie in a flood zone, so the business had to eat the loss — which owner KarenFinigan says was almost $100,000.
Finigan and her staff had to do a lot of math in a hurry. For the first two weeks following Irene Finigan and crew debated — and seriously doubted — whether it would be worth re-opening. What helped make up Finigan’s mind was the outpouring of help that came when the water subsided. Customers and neighbors joined the staff to rescue and clean what could be rescued, Finigan says. People from the community volunteered to get the Blue Rooster back on its feet, and contractors worked as inexpensively as they could.
What else changed Finigan’s mind was that she and her husband, Bob, who co-owns the cafe, felt they had simply put too much into the place to simply let it go. Since opening in 2006 the Finigans have put a lot of money, time, and love into the business, and they did not want to just leave it. They also did not want to leave their staff unemployed, she says. So they got a refinance loan, set to cleaning up, and started figuring ways to improve the business. A children’s menu — something Finigan often thought about but just never got around to implementing — is part of the re-opened Blue Rooster. Finigan also plans to listen to her customers more closely and learn what they want. Minor payback, she says, for the generosity the customers showed.
Finigan says the cafe has taken steps to ensure that another storm doesn’t cause such a setback again. Everything that could be stored somewhere other than the basement has been moved to higher ground (only the basement was affected by the flood), and the heating/air conditioning and electrical systems will be better protected from floodwaters. “I think we will be stronger for [the experience],” Finigan says, “just knowing the support is out there.”
Finigan says she and her staff are especially grateful this year for “each and every one of you who we count among the Blue Rooster family. Your support and encouragement made a huge difference to us.”
The Blue Rooster Bakery & Cafe, 17 North Main Street, Cranbury 08512; 609-235-7539. Bob and Karen Finigan, owners. www.blueroosterbakery.com
#b#Flyte Tyme Worldwide#/b#
Flyte Tyme Worldwide Transportation moved out of its location at 98 Washington Road and is still looking for a permanent home. The business, which provides corporate travel and car services, has set up a temporary office at 100 Overlook Drive to run its Princeton-area operations.
Flyte Time, which has its headquarters in Mahwah and locations in Stamford, Connecticut, Philadelphia, and New York City, employs 87 in Princeton, including drivers. The business had a fleet of dozens here, but Flyte Time CEO Tim Rose says the fleet is now managed remotely.
Flyte Tyme lost three vehicles and all its Princeton computers and phones due to flooding from Hurricane Irene, and though its offices on Washington Road were not in a flood zone they were underwater for four days following the storm, Rose says. The company had no flood insurance because it was not in a flood zone and, consequently, suffered $240,000 in damages.
Rose’s biggest lesson from the experience was having to deal with insurance and FEMA. He tried to claim the disaster on his business insurance, he says, but Flyte Tyme’s insurance provider would not recognize it without actual flood insurance. He tried FEMA, but was told that because the business had insurance — and because Flyte Tyme is a business and not a resident — FEMA could not help. The agency directed him to the U.S. Small Business Association, which offered him a loan that he decided against taking.
Rose had wanted to find another location in West Windsor, but says “there were zoning issues that couldn’t be resolved.” Flyte Tyme is instead shoring up a deal for space at Windsor Corporate Park in Robbinsville Township. Rather than buy flood insurance, though, Rose says the operation will “just move to higher ground.”
Flyte Tyme Worldwide Transportation, 100 Overlook Drive, Princeton 08540; 888-888-5466; fax, 609-452-1101. Ray Gallagher, VP, sales & marketing. www.flytetymelimo.com
Closed for: 35 Days
Damages: $500,000; Verde Gallery closed permanently
Raoul Momo looked at a basement full of water and saw an opportunity to get his restaurant back to its roots. Eno Terra, an upscale Italian restaurant Momo owns with his brother, Carlo, had gotten away from the casual fine wine and dining experience the Momos had intended it to be. But with floodwaters from Hurricane Irene drowning much of the restaurant’s basement (and wine collection), the brothers now had a reason to rethink what to do, and several weeks to do it.
Though the water did not get into the restaurant area, the basement of Eno Terra was “a 3,000-square-foot swimming pool” that took two days to pump dry, Raoul says. But it would be another five weeks until the restaurant re-opened.
Raoul Momo realizes how close he came to being wiped out. There was no flood insurance, and even if there was, water that collects in a basement is not technically considered a flood. It is considered collected water. “It looked like the Titanic down there. We could have been wiped out, if it had hit the bar area.”
Fortunately for Eno Terra, the water did not get into the restaurant area itself, despite that the canal water washed one of the restaurant’s Dumpster bins across Route 27. Momo has no pictures of the flood, but a Kingston resident’s YouTube video (search “Eno Terra flood”) shows a large chunk of Route 27 and Eno Terra’s parking lot deluged by rushing, swirling water.
Verde Gallery, however, did not survive the flooding. The gallery, which opened a year ago, sits directly beside Eno Terra on the restaurant’s property. Verde, says Momo, was damaged beyond the means of the owners, Tasha O’Neill and Joanna Tully, to repair. None of the art was damaged, he says, but the building took too large a hit. “My heart goes out to them,” Momo says. “They were just starting to do well.”
The Momo brothers, on the other hand, have been in business for about 30 years. They also own Teresa’s Cafe and Mediterra in downtown Princeton and in their decades have learned how to weather the occasional storm. The brothers, Raoul says, used Eno Terra’s downtime to trim back the menu (and not just temporarily) to fewer items made with more care. The Momos also found a way to recoup half the cost of the food they lost in the storm.
The restaurant’s business insurance did cover 10 percent of the food losses, which amounted to $40,000.
Wine is considered non-perishable because it is in bottles. But the floodwaters peeled away many of the labels and ruined Eno Terra’s climate control system that differentiates between old wine and well-aged wine. “We had a hurricane wine sale,” Momo says. “We told our customers, ‘you’ve got to trust us.’” No labels, no way of knowing what the bottle contained, and no way of knowing whether the wine had been ruined.
The wine was decanted at the bar and sold at $60 to $70 a bottle, the restaurant’s cost. “We sold out,” Momo says. The hurricane sale netted Eno Terra $20,000 — half the value of the lost food, which Momo says took up three truckloads.
Also in Eno Terra’s corner was a cadre of loyal patrons who dined at the Momos’ other restaurants during Eno Terra’s closure. “Business at our Princeton restaurants went up by 20 percent after Irene,” Momo says.
The cellar has been renovated, with measures to protect the electrical system and the food, Momo says.
Momo is not taking anything for granted, having felt the sting of the 2008 financial meltdown as much as anyone and now having dealt with $500,000 in damages from a natural disaster. Were he and his brother to ever open a restaurant at a new location, they would make sure it was not next to a canal, he says. And he has learned to think more universally about Murphy’s Law. “Keep thinking of every possible thing that can go wrong and prepare,” he says.
Eno Terra, 4484 Route 27, Kingston 08528; 609-497-1777; fax, 609-497-1779. Christopher Albrecht, chef. www.enoterra.com