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Rockaway’s economy decimated

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Photo gallery

1/11
Neil Bress, the owner of J & J Jewelers, throws away ruined merchandise from his shop on Rockaway Beach Boulevard near Beach 87th Street. He had hoped to open a pizzeria next door to the pawn shop. Photo by Christina Santucci
2/11
Olga Gonzalez, who has worked at Beer House Beverages for the past 11 years, stands in the doorway of the shop, which is filled with ruined merchandise. Photo by Christina Santucci
3/11
Neil Bress, the owner of J & J Jewelers, stands in the middle of piles of debris in his Rockaway business. Photo by Christina Santucci
4/11
Mamadou Sow, the owner of DMV Discounts in Rockaway, shows the water line on a mannequin. Photo by Christina Santucci
5/11
Philip Cicia shows a bag of ice, which is still frozen nearly a month after Hurricane Sandy at his business, Beer House Beverages. Photo by Christina Santucci
6/11
Joan Waters mans the counter at The Rockaway Beach Inn. Photo by Christina Santucci
7/11
Generators are set up to power businesses on Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Photo by Christina Santucci
8/11
An NYPD vehicle and members of the National Guard occupy a shopping center on Rockaway Beach Boulevard near Beach 87th Street. Photo by Christina Santucci
9/11
A restaurant’s window on Beach 98th Street is broken.. Photo by Christina Santucci
10/11
Friends help Neil Bress (r.) sort through ruined merchandise at J & J Jewelers. Photo by Christina Santucci
11/11
Lottery stubs lie on the floor of Beer House Beverages in Rockaway. Photo by Christina Santucci

Philip Cicia stared into his wrecked store, Beer House Beverages, one of many Rockaway businesses devastated by Hurricane Sandy.

Inside racks had toppled over, bottles of beer and other merchandise were strewn across the floor and large refrigerators were leaning out from the wall. The store smelled overwhelmingly of mold.

“I don’t know where to start,” Cicia said, standing outside his business near the corner of Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Beach 87th Street. “It doesn’t look very promising.”

Cicia was one of a few shop owners cleaning up their stores along Rockaway Beach Boulevard in the Rockaways Saturday, one of the latest scenes from the peninsula still struggling to get back on its feet after Superstorm Sandy pummeled it nearly a month ago.

Although many stores still remained shuttered with no signs of life, the owners who had returned were beginning the painful process of throwing out water-damaged merchandise, replacing destroyed flooring, walls and electrical equipment and figuring out how they were going to pay for it all.

Cicia said he did not have flood insurance because he had received a letter from the Federal Emergency Management Agency telling him he did not need it. So now, he said, any damage from the waterline down — about 5.5 feet — was not covered.

Moreover, he said his account receivables were destroyed, so he is not sure who owes him money but he still owes taxes and has a number of automatic payments being processed.

He said he had been planning on opening a beer garden next to the Beer House, but that remained in doubt now.

“I’m basically living day by day,” he said.

Nearby on Rockaway Beach Boulevard, Neil, the owner of pawnshop J & J Jewelers, fumed that all the help he seemed to be getting was advice to take out a U.S. Small Business Association loan, which he said would not be enough to keep him afloat.

“How are we going to survive?” he said. “It’s a total disaster and FEMA doesn’t want to help us.”

He said he also did not have flood insurance, and many other store owners were in the same position he was in.

The pawnshop owner said he wanted to get a group of business owners together to demand a grant or else he feared they would not survive.

But some stores were open for business — even if it was limited. The Rockaway Beach Inn bar, at 88-22 Rockaway Beach Blvd., which had power restored, opened back up about two weeks ago and was serving customers, although it was closing at night.

Cicia also said he sold alcohol in the beer garden space for about six hours on Thanksgiving, but sales were terrible. He said he only made $32 the entire day.

And the lack of electricity to many stores still hampered efforts to rebuild and reopen. Even though many shop owners had hooked up generators to provide electricity, many were still eager to get out of the area by nightfall.

One person cleaning up at a generator-powered pharmacy declined to talk to a visitor because his crew was frantically trying to get work done before the sun set.

“We’ve got to get out before it gets dark,” he said. “It’s not safe.”

Reach reporter Karen Frantz by e-mail at kfrantz@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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