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Businesses Look for Help

FEMA, SBA Loans Available

Virginia's two U.S. senators got a firsthand look Monday morning at the havoc Hurricane Isabel brought to the businesses in the heart of Old Town Alexandria. And they brought with them those that have immediate access to the necessary aid.

At 10:30 a.m., Sen. George Allen (R-Va.) stood at the corner of King and Union streets with representatives of the Small Business Administration (SBA) and the Federal Emergency Management Agency and declared, "We are all working together to get this [recovery] under way."

That statement began an hour-long walking and listening tour of the 100 blocks of King and South Union streets, where Allen and U.S. Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.) not only viewed the devastation but heard directly from the business owners what they needed to get back in business.

"My electricity never went out, but I'm going to have to rip all the walls out and totally rebuild before I can reopen," said Charles Lindsey, owner of The Scoop Grill and Homemade Ice Cream, 110 King St., as Allen stood in the shell of his establishment. The waist-high watermark testified to the owner's assessment.

"We are going to have our teams on the street, and we will be working closely with the Chamber of Commerce," said Melanie Sabelhaus, SBAdeputy administrator. "We want you back in business as soon as possible. We are hoping to have a turnaround time no longer than 21 days."

Allen noted, "It's very important to have the SBA here today to work with the merchants. What's also important is to have the merchants know that help is available."

Ken Moore, president and CEO of the Alexandria Chamber of Commerce, and Bill Reagan, Alexandria Small Business Development Center director, said that "We had no guidelines. We are also going to be helping business owners by putting out a list of business needs to our members to see who can help with what."

Warner explained, "We are doing the best we can. We need to work together like a big family." He then revealed that the idea of a flood wall was being reconsidered by city government.

"I actually had the Corps of Engineer study the possibility of a flood wall some time ago, but the idea was rejected by the city at that time because it was felt that it would detract from the natural beauty of the riverfront. But, it's being revisited," Warner said.

WHEN THE ENTOURAGE entered Bugsy's Pizza Restaurant and Sports Bar at 111 King St., owner Bryan Watson told Allen, "We really got slammed. I've been here 20 years and have never seen anything like this. But the police and fire departments have been great."

Watson explained he had about four feet of water in his restaurant. Although he was open for business with customers at some of the tables, he admitted that "the ovens are still not operating. I was cooking pizzas on the Cherry Blossom, in a van, at home, wherever. These are the things you need to do to get open."

Watson had special praise for three city officials he found "extremely important to us during this crisis. These are my three stars for the city," he said. "They are Lt. John Crawford of the Police Department; Robert Rodriguez of the Fire Department and Richard Michelback of the Health Department. These guys went out of their way to help."

THE FISH MARKET Restaurant, 105 King St., was still not open for business. Allen, Warner and Sabelhaus were told that all the kitchen equipment had been damaged by the flood waters.

Just one-half block from there, toward Lee Street, the Landini Brothers Restaurant suffered little or no damage, according to Noe Landini, one of the owners. "We were prepared and moved all the perishable items to the second floor. It just needed some cleaning up after the flood, and we were ready for business," he said.

"But we still weren't able to open until Saturday night. So, our most serious loss was loss of business when they [Washington Gas] shut off the gas. Then, when they turned it back on, they discovered a leak up the street and shut it down again," Landini said.

Union Street merchants were hit even harder than those on King Street, according to several on the tour as they surveyed the damage at the Firehook Bakery, 105 S. Union and The Virginia Co., 104 S. Union, among others. In the bakery, they had to weave their way through the equipment piled in the area that had been filled with customers just Thursday morning.

“We lost everything downstairs. It was neck-high on the first floor,” said Bob Lorenson, owner of The Virginia Co. “Now the Health Department tells us we have to destroy all the wine just because the river water got on the bottles, even though they are sealed. It doesn't make any sense."

He pointed to his buckboard wagon that sits in the front of his shop. "This was floating along with everything else on this level. But it's as good as before," he said of the once-again merchandise-filled buckboard.

Jessica Krueger, a longtime employee of The Virginia Co., stood next to the fireplace mantel and pointed to the spot on the wall just above it where the water reached. "Everything that was on the mantel was floating around the room, that's how high it was. But nothing broke," she said.

FOLLOWING THE TOUR, representatives of SBA met with Moore and Reagan to discuss plans to expedite the federal loan application process. By Monday afternoon a decision was made to hold a Disaster Assistance Workshop on Wednesday at the Lee Center beginning at 8 a.m.

The workshop was designed to walk potential applicants through the process and provide assistance with the paperwork. It was under the aegis of SBA's Disaster Area 1 Office located in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

SBA's Disaster Assistance Program is the federally funded disaster assistance loan program for funding long-range recovery for private-sector, non-farm-disaster victims. For Hurricane Isabel assistance, SBA has established two deadline dates for submission of aid applications:

* Nov. 17, 2003, for physical damage to homes, personal property and businesses;

* June 18, 2004, for economic injury.

THERE ARE THREE types of Disaster Loans:

* Business Physical Disaster Loans are given to businesses to repair or replace damages to property owned by the businesses of any size;

* Economic Injury Disaster Loans (EIDL) provide loans for working capital to small businesses to assist them through the disaster recovery period. EIDL are available only to applicants with no credit available elsewhere.

* Home Disaster Loans are available to homeowners and/or renters to repair or replace disaster damages to real estate or personal property owned by the victim.

Types 1 and 2 were the primary emphasis of the Wednesday workshop, which also covered such details as credit requirements, interest rates, loan term, loan amount limits, loan eligibility restrictions, refinancing, relocation and insurance requirements.