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Bridgeport Corner Store Struggles After Sandy

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Sujata Srinivasan
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http://cptv.vo.llnwd.net/o2/ypmwebcontent/Harriet/sspopsgrocery0422.mp3

Almost six months after Superstorm Sandy, some businesses are still fighting to get back on their feet. Pop’s Grocery, a 52-year-old corner store in Bridgeport, was inundated by floodwater during the storm. As part of her series on recovery after Sandy, WNPR’s Sujata Srinivasan went back to visit.

It’s a sunny spring day at the South End of Bridgeport’s historic Seaside Park created by FrederickLaw Olmsted, who also designed Central Park in New York City. The Long Island Sound could be an Impressionist painting – calm, blue and beautiful. But back in October of last year during Superstorm Sandy, the ocean gushed more than 500 feet into Main Street, flooding buildings such as Pop’s Grocery, under six feet of water. It took Tony Malinowski three and a half months to reopen his store.

“I lost the whole inventory of the store. Plus all the shelving, the floor, the foundation had to be re-cemented. The cabinetry work had to be redone. You know, knocking out walls, getting out, re-gutting it. You know spraying for, you know, the mold and so forth and so on.”  

Malinowski says the insurance company estimated damages of $50,000, but paid out only about $35,000. He had to cough up another $30,000 of his own money, and the process was far from smooth.

“It was basically telephone calls after telephone calls after sending certain estimates from the electrician, to the carpenter and calling them and sending it to them and then sending it to another company and another company. It was basically a long process that should be shortened for business people.”

Switching to a competing insurer isn’t on the cards.

“Well you don’t have too many options. So you try to hold on to what you have and try to increase the coverage. A lot of people don’t want to take you because it’s a flood area.”

Last November, Malinowski found out that flood risk is a barrier for federal disaster loans as well. He’d taken out a $17,000 loan from the Small Business Administration – SBA -- in 2011 after tropical storm Irene. After storm Sandy, he’d planned on applying again for a disaster loan, offered at 4 percent by the SBA, at the FEMA Disaster Recovery Center in Bridgeport. But that didn’t happen.

“The drawback was that I had to get flood insurance and the flood insurance was for half a million dollars and the premium was $9,000 a year. So there was no way I could afford that premium. So what I had to do was tell FEMA that I really couldn’t use ‘em. 

Malinowski already had basic flood insurance coverage, but says it wasn’t enough to meet the SBA loan requirements. He has a standard policy with a premium of about $2,000 a year. But the rates could get steeper. A congressional reform act passed last summer allows rates under the National Flood Insurance Program to increase up to 20 percent each year. It used to be capped at 10 percent annually. The risk – and the cost – has driven many people out of the neighborhood. That’s hard on the 52-year-old grocery store.

“The clientele and the customers, because of the second flood incident, all decide to move out. So now you’ve lost your base pay, you’ve lost your good customers, you’ve lost the people that make your income.”

Malinowski is hoping the new residents will keep his business going. As of now some old-time customers, like Michelle Sharma from Bridgeport, keep the cash register ringing. She grew up in the area and used to hang out at the store with her friends.

“I come to buy ice cold beer. Pop’s has one of the coldest beers around. So you know, you come and have a beer and go to the park and do whatever. I’m kind of happy he’s back up and running. This is a pretty nostalgic place for a lot of people that are familiar with this area. It’s just your neighborhood corner store.”

For WNPR, I’m Sujata Srinivasan

Sujata Srinivasan is Connecticut Public Radio’s senior health reporter. Prior to that, she was a senior producer for Where We Live, a newsroom editor, and from 2010-2014, a business reporter for the station.

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