Storm Damage, Recovery and Preparation


By Tanya Silverman

Photo courtesy of Michael Fleshman.

Hurricane season began on June 1st, but no one in the tri-state area can forget what happened last year.

“We’re hoping very much that what they call the ‘storm of the century’ is really a storm of the century,” says Barrie Kolstein when looks back on Hurricane Sandy. His local business, Kolstein’s of Baldwin, New York, manufactures and repairs stringed instruments.

“We have to be one of the oldest violin shops that exist in the United States. My shop is close to 80 years in existence,” he says. “We’ve been located in our present location for 33 years and never had any such problem for any kind of storms. This storm was different.”

That was definitely true. Even though they are located over two miles from the ocean, the consequent flooding was so severe, many of the building’s pipes burst, brutalizing the building’s interior, exterior, and worst of all, many of their instruments.

“We had to restore the fine, old vintage instruments and pedigree instruments; we’re basically almost done at this point,” says Kolstein, nine months after the storm.

While some of their pieces and accessories had been destructed, they still managed to salvage about 150 of the most valuable violins, violas, cellos and basses. Despite the three-month period that they shut their doors, Kolstein is pleased that he managed to keep the entire staff.

With this year’s hurricane season well underway, Kolstein says that they must be prepared to take all the instruments and move them up to a higher altitude upon any type of storm threat.

“It’s a huge amount of effort to bring hundreds of instruments up to a higher level and then bring them down the next day again,” says Kolstein.

He realizes that this situation may occur, though, and he will have to treat any type of threat with a different seriousness.

“My feeling is the coast line, particularly in Nassau County, has been so compromised that it doesn’t have the resistance of holding back water or flood back-up that it did prior to the storm.”

Along that same Nassau County coast at Rachel’s Waterside Grill in Freeport, NY, a manager recalls how this seafood restaurant had been severely “trashed,” after 2.5 feet of water flooded their establishment.

“All of our refrigeration and ice machines flipped over, the water pressure pushed the doors closed… the water pressure built up, then it filled up with air, and then all the equipment must have just popped up like corks,” he says. “Everything was all over the place and by the morning, everything was ruined.”

They had to wait four months to get a check from the insurance company, and then wait two months to have their business rebuilt. The manager predicts that there will probably be a hurricane of similar damage to Sandy at some point of the future, but feels that he is prepared as much as he can be.

“The only thing I really could do was put all of our kitchen equipment on a system called quick disconnect… to wheel all of our refrigerators and ovens out the back door if there’s another hurricane,” he says. “Then it will just be the floor and none of my equipment will get damaged.”

Photo courtesy of Julia.

Another coastal hotspot that was hit hard by the storm and may have to prepare for future hurricane threats was Ocean City, New Jersey.

Erin Visalli founded Relax Concierge, which has a location in Ocean City. Her company rents items like linens, baby equipment, and beach gear for Jersey Shore vacationers. Relax Concierge was also forced dealt with imminent hurricane preparation prior to 2012, during Irene, in which they were first to call up customers and tell them to leave the shore.

Fortunate for them, Sandy occurred during the off-peak winter season. So at that point, they had moved all of their sheets, strollers, beach chairs, towels, and other equipment offshore. Unfortunately though, their Ocean City office did get flooded, ruining much of their furniture, computers, printers, and other equipment, which they had to clean and replace.
She realizes now that her business must be as prepared as possible if there is a threat during summer months.

“We also have plans in place to make sure our inventory is offshore in the event there is another hurricane,” she says.

Visalli notes that keeping positive relations with vendors and other businesses is important, as they work to help each other out in times like hurricanes. She speaks highly of the community support that their business and others in Ocean City received through the organization OCNJ CARE, who were helpful in “providing guidance and suggestions on how to find the best recovery in town.”

The community response was also noteable in Red Hook, a section of Brooklyn full of local businesses that were severely damaged by Hurricane Sandy.

Mark Synder, the owner of Red Hook Winery, recalls being completely devastated by the storm, losing all of infrastructure and equipment, not to mention wine. Though the winery had issues during the arduous recovery process and unreliable insurance company, Synder notes that the city and community have been incredibly supportive in the restoration process.

Several different organizations came into Red Hook to organize volunteer work and Synder himself praises how “about 40 people came down each day to donate their time and energy” to Red Hook Winery.

“We’ve created a book which basically outlines how to move the different items and equipment and re-rack the wines to minimize losses,” says Synder. “We have a contingency plan to act in a very organized fashion that will hopefully minimize our losses in the future.”

Challenged by the destructive effects of last year’s storm, these local businesses are only a few examples of many that managed to fight through the hardships and stay open today. Though hurricane season will be over by November 30th, businesses have already taken various precautions to face the potential threats.

Mark Synder purchased flood insurance to help protect Red Hook Winery, but what he really credits is the inspiring support he received from other businesses and people in the area:

“The most effective tool has been the support and general assistance of the community.”

Times of trial and tribulation can definitely lead to negative complications, but can just as easily bring out individual strength and collective help.