October 29 marks the five year anniversary of Hurricane Sandy. BKLYNER interviewed local business owners who were affected by the historic storm about their experiences and lessons learned.
DUMBO – The PowerHouse Arena was one of the pioneering businesses in DUMBO—the picturesque, waterfront neighborhood “down under the Manhattan Bridge overpass,” long before the Empire Stores, 1 Hotel Brooklyn Bridge, and Soho House came along.
Established in 2006 by renowned art book publisher, powerHouse Books, The PowerHouse Arena is a book store, gallery, and performance and event space. The original storefront was located at 37 Main Street and featured more than 5,000 square feet of retail space, 24-foot-high ceilings, walls of windows, and amphitheater-style seating.
The PowerHouse Arena had been situated on the corner of Main and Water Streets, steps away from the East River, for six years when Hurricane Sandy hit. While Daniel Power, CEO and Founder of powerHouse Books, and his staff prepared for Sandy, their efforts were not enough to save the beloved bookshop from major damage.
“Like we did for Irene [August 2011], we placed books on top of the large heavy rolling cabinets and moved the bookstands, spinners, and small tables off the floor and onto the first large Arena step, which was 18 inches off the ground,” Power told BKLYNER. “Irene only got as far as an inch or two deep 40 feet away, but Sandy brought in some 28 inches of water into our space,” he recalls.
“The surge came in fast, lifted 300 pound rolling cabinets up, caused merchandise on top of them to fall into the water, and consumed everything that was stored on the 18-inch-high step,” he continues. “The intense pressure of the surge withdrawing blew out the glass door.”
The morning following the storm, Power and his team discovered a “massive trail of soaked books and stationery [running from the store’s] front door, down the street, into the park, and down by the East River bank.”
Fortunately, cleanup for the Arena was fairly easy considering the extent of the damage. “We did not have a basement and we were able to sweep, vac, and mop up fairly quickly,” Power explains. “Suppliers rushed replacement inventory very quickly, and we found makeshift display tables to replace the damaged ones.” Power applied for a small business administration loan to help pay for the repairs.
When asked if he ever considered relocating The Powerhouse Arena out of the waterfront neighborhood post-Sandy, Power says, “no,” as the tourism and foot traffic brings in a “robust” business. “Now if we can get a handle on the rents…” he adds jokingly.
“We are a low-tech, low overhead business,” he explains, saying the merchandise he sells—books and stationery, is “easy to replace.” Power’s business does not require any “high-cost equipment,” and he suggests, “If you are a business that does, be prepared to write it off if you can’t move it quickly to at least a mezzanine or second-floor level.”
A lesson Power learned from Sandy, as well as from a previous fire, is “keep good records, and keep them handy, of your high-ticket insurable equipment and merchandise and other belongings. Insurance companies want to see source of origin and invoices to establish value.” He also advises business owners to open up shop on “higher ground” if they want to avoid spending a “fortune building a business in an area that might see a lot more frequent storms like [Sandy].”
In the event of another hurricane, Power says he will “place products higher than 28 inches off the ground.” He adds, “If the water surges get as high as 60 inches off the ground, we and most of this area of Brooklyn are seriously f-cked.”
The PowerHouse Arena is now located at 28 Adams Street (at the corner of Water Street) in DUMBO. The store relocated last year because the lease expired—not because of the affects of Sandy.