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After Ida, small businesses face uncertainty on many fronts

FILE - In this Sept. 4, 2021 file photo, a worker uses a heavy duty vacuum cleaner to collect flood water off the floor of the Dollar Depot store after remnants of Hurricane Ida inundated the community, in Mamaroneck, N.Y. Small businesses from Louisiana to Connecticut are facing an uncertain recovery after being walloped by Ida and its residual rains and flooding last week. Days after the destruction, they’re reaching out to clients and staff, assessing damage and trying to plan for the way forward. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer, File)

NEW YORK — A week or more after Ida, business owners from Louisiana to Connecticut are still adding up the financial losses and assessing the physical and emotional toll, grappling to find a way forward.

Many say it’s difficult to figure out the future when they’re unsure of the answers to some immediate questions: When will the power come back on? How long before I get new supplies? When can my business be rebuilt?

“There’s no more anxious situation to a business owner than a complete lack of clarity in how to plan,” said Pike Howard, director of finance and development for New Orleans-based Felipe’s Mexican Taqueria restaurants. Many businesses have already dealt with a long stretch of uncertainty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“The amount that we’ve been tested the past 18 to 24 months it’s hard to imagine the roller coaster,” Howard said. “If you didn’t have a cash reserve going into this situation, I don’t know what you would do.”

Some help is being made available. On Monday, President Joe Biden approved major disaster declarations for six New Jersey counties and five New York counties. That follows similar announcements for Mississippi and Louisiana, the initial targets of the hurricane.

Disaster declarations are key for small businesses because that opens the door for federal disaster assistance loans.

By Wednesday evening, crews in Louisiana had restored power to nearly 90% of New Orleans and all of Baton Rouge. But hundreds of thousands of homes and businesses in Louisiana, most of them outside New Orleans, still don’t have power. And about half of the gas stations in two major cities were without fuel as of Wednesday.

Rebuilding from storm damage will be a challenge. Building contractors were already facing worker shortages and supply constraints. Ida made those challenges even worse and will lead to higher prices and longer building delays.

Michael Gulotta, who owns two restaurants in New Orleans, said there is little they can do when facing the extensive power outages that Ida wrought.

“We were preparing for the storm, down here, we get them so often, you try to pack coolers with ice and hope the power is out for 20 minutes,” he said. “Once it is, ‘Oh, the power is out indefinitely,’ there’s not a whole lot you can do, at that point, the planning is out the window.”

He organized food giveaways at his restaurants, Mopho and Maypop, to help get food to those who need it. Power has been restored and he planned on opening Mopho Thursday, but Maypop will remain closed for a few weeks. He said it’s harder to get loans and insurance when the problem is business interruption rather than physical damage.

“The hard part is I just took a huge loss and no one is getting me money,” he said. “At this point I’m out thousands and thousands of dollars and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

Some who aren’t counting on insurance have started fundraising.

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