In aftermath of Sandy, business owners continue to pick up pieces

09/21/2013 7:58 AM |

KATHARINE SCHROEDER FILE PHOTO | Captain Dave Berson walks the dock outside Scrimshaw’s restaurant in Greenport the morning after Superstorm Sandy struck the North Fork. The restaurant’s owner, Rosa Ross, described the dock as looking like a ‘jumble of wood’ in the storm’s aftermath.

Jerry Tuthill vividly remembers the anguish he felt the first time he surveyed the cruel hand superstorm Sandy dealt to his family’s 25-year-old Greenport restaurants, Claudio’s Clam Bar and Crabby Jerry’s.

“The docks were all torn up,” he said. “Crabby Jerry’s was completely wiped out. I built this place myself, so it really broke my heart.”

As devastating as Mr. Tuthill’s ordeal following Sandy was, it unfortunately wasn’t unique. Some North Fork businesses, like Pepi’s Italian Restaurant in Southold, were in ruins following the storm, which ravaged the Atlantic coastline late last October.

“It’s destroyed,” owner Pepi Gibinska told the Suffolk Times last November. “My deck is inside the restaurant. We’re trying to save what we can.”

Ten months later, Pepi’s remains closed.

“We’re working on reopening,” Ms. Gibinska said. “It takes time.” She declined further comment, but said she has obtained building permits to reconstruct the restaurant.

Special Report: Remembering the ‘L.I. Express hurricane of 1938′

Scrimshaw Restaurant, which sits on the water at the end of Main Street in Greenport, also suffered extensive damage but was closed for only three weeks following the storm.

Rosa Ross, Scrimshaw’s owner and executive chef, said the restaurant had a significant amount of electrical damage. The eatery’s outdoor dock, however, fared the worst.

“It looked like a giant picked up the dock and just threw it back down,” she said. “It was a jumble of wood.”

JENNIFER GUSTAVSON FILE PHOTO | Nearly 11 months after this photo was taken, Pepi’s Cucina Di Casa restaurant in Southold has still not reopened.

The dock was replaced in June, Ms. Ross said, and although the restaurant has been up and running for months, customers still ask her if Scrimshaw is operating.

“I just had someone call me today and ask if we were open,” she said with a light chuckle this week.

“From mid-July to the end of Labor Day, the season was good,” Ms. Ross said. “We’re still struggling to recoup and pay off all our debts.”

In Mattituck, Love Lane Market was closed for eight months after an electrical malfunction caused by Sandy burned out the store’s heating, ventilation and air conditioning system, effectively spoiling all refrigerated merchandise. The store reopened at the beginning of July but has since struggled to find its momentum, owner Mike Avella said.

“We had an OK summer,” he said. “We’re definitely not where we were last year at this time. Unfortunately we had to restart from zero, pretty much.”

In addition to losing all the store’s inventory, Mr. Avella said, he also needed to hire and train new staff.

“It cost me a lot of money to come back in,” he said. “We’re maybe 75 percent of where we were last year with inventory.”

But as challenging as this year has been, Mr. Avella said, the future looks promising.

“On a positive note, we are applying for grants from New York State and we have high hopes that we’re going to receive a grant that will help us finish restocking and hire more employees,” he said. “Ideally, we’ll be in a position to take advantage of the Thanksgiving holidays.”

In Greenport, Mr. Tuthill is also looking on the bright side.

“I’m not looking forward to another storm like that, let me tell you,” he said. “But it could have been worse. A lot of people thought that we’d never be open for the season because we had so much damage.”

Claudio’s Clam Bar and Crabby Jerry’s both opened in May, on time for the summer rush. Claudio’s Restaurant also suffered damage but was open 36 hours after the storm.

And although Labor Day, which traditionally marks the end of the summer business season, came and went two weeks ago, Mr. Tuthill said the restaurant still sees a lot of business when the weather is nice.

“Greenport isn’t a hidden secret anymore,” he said. “People know about it now. I’m amazed how many people are coming here on the weekends and even during the week.”

If all goes well, he said, there will be plenty of visitors at this weekend’s Greenport Maritime Festival, where Bill Claudio is parade marshal.

“I’m hoping for a good weekend with the Maritime Festival,” Mr. Tuthill said. “That would really help us out a lot.”

[email protected]