Queens businesses lose $50M in blackout: Beep

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Working off the city comptroller’s citywide tallies of spoiled meat, melted ice-cream and other blackout-related damages, the borough president’s economic development staff estimated Tuesday that Queens small businesses lost some $50 million during last week’s power outage.

“Most of them are mom-and-pop businesses that don’t have the margins that are able to absorb this kind of loss,” said Alexandra Rosa, chief of staff for Borough President Helen Marshall.

Rosa said so far there has been no final approval for special assistance to businesses from federal, state or city agencies, but Marshall has asked the city’s Department of Business Services for some sort of program to assist businesses.

“One of the things we’re looking at is having Con Ed provide up to $100 per household to replace frozen food that was lost, similar to what they did after the blackout that affected Washington Heights,” said Rosa.

The city comptroller estimated that the city’s small businesses, which include businesses that employ up to 20 people, had lost a total of $175 million. When pro-rated according to population, the figure comes out to about $50 million in losses for Queens small businesses, said Rosa.

Councilman Hiram Monserrate (D-Corona) took a more combative approach in trying to help people recoup their losses. At a news conference on the steps of City Hall Monday, he announced he would join business owners who suffered extreme financial losses to sue electric companies, state power authorities and grid operators in a class-action lawsuit.

“Now that the lights are back on, we need to have a frank discussion about costs,” said Monserrate. “The big question of the day is who will pay? We are here today to say that the store owners should not have to pay for what we believe is the negligence of others.”

The lights went out at 4:11 p.m. across the borough last Thursday and the power began coming back on in some neighborhoods early Friday. But many sections did not have electricity until Friday evening or even Saturday in a few cases.

“It simply doesn’t make sense that those who bear the economic fallout from the blackout are the same people who loyally pay their taxes and their monthly electricity bills,” Monserrate continued. “This lawsuit would ensure compensation for the ‘little guy’ — the store owner who had to empty his shop of lost produce and spoiled dairy products.”

The lead lawyer in the class-action law suit will be Jerry Goldfeder, who was involved in a similar suit after the city’s last massive power outage in 1977, said Monserrate.

Goldfeder said possible defendants in the law suit included the states of Ohio and New York, Consolidated Edison in New York and FirstEnergy in Ohio, the New York Power Authority, the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, the New York Independent System Operator and the Midwestern Independent Transmission System Operator.

According to Luis Salcedo, the executive director of the National Supermarket Association, an organization of about 400 supermarkets throughout the city, including about 75 in Queens, each supermarket lost between $35,000 and $50,000 due to the blackout.

“Usually, supermarkets have about 150 feet of frozen, meat and dairy products,” said Salcedo, who will join Monserrate as a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “They had to throw out all the products. No one will take a chance on a spoiled product being sold to the public. This has been a nightmare in every sense of the word.”

Supermarkets that belong to Salcedo’s organization include C-Town, Met Food, Pioneer, Associated and Fine Food supermarkets.

Ramon Murphy, a representative of the Association of Bodegas in the United States, who will also be a plaintiff in the lawsuit, said each of the approximately 10,000 bodegas in the city lost between $3,000 and $20,000 due to the blackout, depending on the size of the business.

Ice-cream parlors throughout the city suffered big financial losses, giving away scoops for free and dumping buckets of the melted product down the drain.

“We lost a lot of money,” said Holga Arevalo, a worker at the Tasti D-Lite parlor on Continental Avenue in Forest Hills Friday. “We gave everything away for free yesterday and today we had to throw stuff out.”

Sandy Blane, owner of Ralph’s Ices on 41st Avenue in Bayside said he had to pour about 100 tubs of melted ice-cream down the drain, while Adriana Janiak, a worker at Uncle Louis G’s Italian ice shop on Austin Street in Forest Hills said she spent hours cleaning up the melted ices that leaked all over the store’s counter freezers.

A few businesses that made out well during the blackout included ice-cream and coffee trucks, which do not depend on electric power.

“The coffee car had a line all the way around the block,” said Jens Reumenmatt, a chef at Soup’s On on Austin Street in Forest Hills.

Reumenmatt, whose store regained power at 8:30 a.m. Friday, said he had to throw out all the salads and meats in his restaurant’s showcase and make everything up fresh.

“You never recuperate,” he said. “You can’t write it off, insurance doesn’t cover it.”

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at, or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:25 pm, October 10, 2011
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