Surfside business center damaged by tenement collapse


SURFside, Florida. Cafe Vert, a kosher restaurant on typically busy Harding Avenue, was quiet on Wednesday, which would normally be during lunchtime.

Michael Labi, who runs a restaurant owned by his family, noted how slow the business has become in recent weeks. after the collapse of Champlain Towers South a mile from here.

“I’m not going to complain about business when people both parents and family members were killedbut it was very slow, ”he said, adding that he knew that many of the regulars who lived in New York and Canada and owned homes in the area were not returning to Surfside during this time. “Even during COVID, we had a business, but not like that.”

Business owners on Harding Avenue said the collapse of a nearby condominium building hurt them emotionally, as many had lost friends and loyal customers. Some also noted that this also caused an economic ripple effect.

“It’s impossible,” said Emily Wands, owner of the LAHH showroom on Harding Avenue. “Customers cancel, turn around and say ‘I won’t come.”Saul Martinez / NBC News

While many were quick to provide support and assistance to first responders, victims and others in their community, they also noticed that the collapse of the building led to an onerous business downturn. This is similar to the economic impact of a pandemic, as it is difficult for customers to reach the area.

“The situation is very bad for us,” said Samuel Aroveno, who owns and operates the Rolling-Pin Kosher Pareve Bakery. “Last year we saw about 15 businesses on this street. Hopefully now we don’t see it again. “

Unintended consequences

After the building collapsed, the authorities had to block off a large perimeter to prevent people from getting too close to the site. They also needed a lot of storage space for ambulances and construction equipment to earthworks that are ongoing there

“You have to maintain this perimeter for security purposes, but we understand that this is a double-edged sword,” said Detective Alvaro Zabaleta, a public information officer for the Miami-Dade Police Department. “You hurt people who are not directly related to this. We understand this and hope to minimize the pain. “

The closure further slowed traffic in the area, which sits on a narrow strip of land connected to the Florida coast by a series of bridges and small islands, making it difficult for customers, residents and business owners to easily reach downtown Surfside.

“It’s impossible,” said Emily Wands, owner of the LAHH showroom on Harding Avenue. “Customers cancel, turn around and say, ‘I won’t be coming.’

The slowdown comes after one of the most economically disruptive periods for small businesses in the history of the country. The coronavirus pandemic has brought many local shops and restaurants to their knees or forced entrepreneurs to take out long-term loans to stay afloat.

Ilker Tsirkin, co-owner of Geneva Tailor, said the store took out an SBA loan to help them overcome the current economic crisis.Saul Martinez / for NBC News

However, many companies subsequently worked together to provide food. first respondents and assistance to victims of the collapse of the building.

“It’s a very small community,” said Wands, who helped organize food and clothing promotions. “Everyone knows someone who was in that tower. Perhaps not directly, but your best friend knows this person or your husband’s family knows this person. It was very emotional. We lost a man who had been a client of mine for five years. It’s horrible “.

Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett said he is grateful for the efforts of downtown businesses, especially for helping the community as well as suffering economic damage.

“In addition to being completely disabled, they went out of their way to support the rescue effort,” he said. “So not only did they have no business, but they spent money, time and energy supporting their efforts. There are many brave, wonderful people in our business district. “

Another economic disaster

However, the relief of business activity in the business district will not come soon. The summer months are the off-season for the Miami Beach area, so the economic activity of the shops here was already at a low level. But with buildings collapsing and street closures, the small, busy business district has become even quieter.

The Small Business Administration and the Florida Department of Economic Affairs came in response. SBA consultants set up a table in Geneva Tailor, a storefront on Harding Avenue in the heart of the city’s downtown. Co-owner Ilker Tsirkin said the company took out an SBA loan to help it overcome the current economic crisis.

Owner Ilker Tsirkin works at a Geneva tailor in Surfside, Florida on July 14, 2021.Saul Martinez / for NBC News
Paula Ferguson (right) and Asuncion Guerrero (second from right) of the Small Business Association (SBA) help people in disaster recovery on July 14, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.Saul Martinez / for NBC News

“We try, you know, we try our best, but it was very difficult, so we are waiting to hear about it,” he said, pointing to two SBA employees working at a table by his front window.

Dane Eagle, secretary for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunities, said his government agency arrived on the scene almost immediately after the building collapsed, delivering two mobile units to a small seaside settlement and offering small term, interest-free loans. So far, only 11 businesses have applied for Florida’s Emergency Bridging Loan.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and Eagle also encouraged businesses to complete a survey to make sure the state knows the needs of the community, and 50 businesses have done so to date.

Eagle said he has heard from businesses – his team has already helped about 100 businesses and individuals at the scene – who were forced to lay off their employees, and how the journey time increased to an hour or more in a matter of minutes, keeping customers at bay. long away.

“We hope it will be short term, but it will happen in the foreseeable future,” he said. “The need will and will continue along with the efforts to rebuild the building. Consequently, there will be a crowding out of ordinary tourism, normal residents who walk the streets. “

Emily Wands with a client on July 14, 2021 in Surfside, Florida.Saul Martinez / for NBC News

Meanwhile, the SBA is offering low-interest loans to businesses as well as tenants and homeowners in the area. Small businesses are offered loans of up to $ 2 million at 2.88 percent.

While the SBA says it has received 57 applications from businesses in Miami related to the condominium collapse as of Thursday, some owners here have said they are not interested in further incurring debt.

“We just got on our feet from Covid and it just threw us back,” Wands said. “What the SBA is offering is great, but we are still paying off the loans we got for the pandemic. We need grants, and they don’t. “

However, the SBA checked the area to make sure local businesses were up to date.

“The SBA came in here and offered a loan, which is great, but we don’t want another loan,” Aroveno said. “We’re almost better off closing because it’s too bad, but we want to be here to support families and everyone in the city center.”

Eagle said his agency is working with the Miami Beacon Council, a public-private partnership focused on the economy of Miami-Dade County, to find funding for grants.

“I think this is where the private sector needs to be activated, so we contacted the Miami Beacon Council,” he said. “They are trying to find ways to help those who cannot get a new loan, and find them a grant that will help fill this gap.”

Burkett said he is also working with local private groups to develop potential grants and funding for the affected businesses, which he plans to roll out soon.

“My # 1 priority is to get everyone out of the rubble and support families,” he said, “but I want to make sure that our businesses and the people behind them who have stepped up are grateful and know that we are grateful. them for whatever they are ready.

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