Sandy aftermath has put many locals back to work

12/07/2012 3:00 PM |
Long Island, Riverhead, North Fork, Southold, Supestorm Sandy

BARBARAELLEN KOCH PHOTO | Riverhead Building Supply employee Andy Strrebel helps contractor Paul Fizzuoglio of Flanders load some sheetrock into his truck Tuesday morning.

Hurricane Sandy caused millions of dollars of damage on the East End but, at the same time, provided a boon, if not an economic windfall, for some businesses.

That’s especially the case for those in businesses connected to rebuilding. Some in the hospitality industry also received a bump, although no one interviewed this week felt the need to gloat.

“You want to be happy, but you can’t,” Rob Salvatico said of the 100 percent occupancy rates his two Riverhead hotels, The Indigo East End and Holiday Inn Express, experienced during and after Sandy. “I can’t even begin to tell you about the personal losses people have experienced from this storm. It’s terrible.”

About 40 New York state troopers used the Indigo East End as a staging area after the storm, bringing generators along to ensure they could stay at the hotel if it lacked power.

“First responders and National Grid guys were also desperate for rooms,” Mr. Salvatico said. “They’d been sleeping in their trucks and were just so happy to have a safe, dry, warm place to stay and have a hot shower. I couldn’t believe the looks on their faces as they came in the door. At one point, they were inflating mattresses and staying in the ballroom.”

Though he called the uptick in business “bittersweet,” Mr. Salvatico said the situation showed how Riverhead is developing.

“The uplifting message here is that if you look at Riverhead five or 10 years ago, we had one hotel,” he said. “Now we have four and this was the first time Riverhead’s hotels have been full for almost the entire month of November.”

The same held true in Southold, where hotel and motel parking lots were filled for weeks with utility trucks belonging to out-of-town and, in many cases, out-of-state utility workers brought in to help with the massive power restoration effort.

The storm also wrecked many a dock and bulkhead. John Costello of Costello Marine Contracting Corp. in Greenport said that with all the contracts the company has — including repairing ferry slips and rock revetments, some of which pre-date the storm — he can’t accept any more work.

“After the storm we’ve been involved in attempting to save a couple houses that were in jeopardy of getting pulled into the bay,” Mr. Costello said, “Since Oct. 29 I haven’t done any work except to go and visit devastated properties, particularly around Shelter Island, East Hampton and Montauk. So far we’ve saved two houses. It’s just nuts. There’s a lot of damage and all you can ask people to do is to try to be patient and hope they’re able to find legitimate, qualified marine contractors to get the work done.”

Mr. Costello said he’s received nearly 80 requests for service and has been able to respond to only about a dozen.

“We’ve been getting more business than we can possibly handle,” he said.

On land, contractors are also finding themselves swimming in work, said general contractor Paul Fizzuoglio, who stopped to talk to a reporter Tuesday morning while purchasing sheetrock at Riverhead Building Supply.

“It’s been a gold rush for contractors.” Mr. Fizzuoglio said, adding, “I’m giving them a fair price.”

Mr. Fizzuoglio of Flanders has contracts to renovate storm-damaged homes in Flanders, South Jamesport, Hampton Bays and even Long Beach.

Edgar Goodale of Riverhead Building Supply said it’s still a bit early to gauge any increase in sales for major repair-related items such as cabinetry and millwork, although he has noticed a slight uptick in insulation sales.

Mr. Goodale said Riverhead’s sales increases have been smaller than those of similar companies in western Suffolk and Nassau County.

“So many people are suffering,” he said. “You would not believe the stories. It’s absolutely heart-wrenching.”

The operators of independent hardware stores, like Orlowski Hardware in Mattituck and Cutchogue Hardware in Cutchogue, said if there’s been an increase in sales, it’s been very slight.

Robert Molchan of Cutchogue Hardware said his biggest sales came during and just after the storm.

“We were able to accommodate people with flashlights, batteries, candles, propane, lamp oil and even gas cans,” Mr. Molchan said.

Some of those in need of a flashlight during Sandy couldn’t have traveled to get one even if they wanted to, as vehicles throughout Long Island became waterlogged or crushed by falling limbs and trees.

“I think there were 250,000 cars lost just in the Northeast,” said Howie Lucas, owner of Lucas Ford in Southold. He estimates his sales are up 20 percent and that anyone who brings in proof that they lost a vehicle in the storm will receive a cash incentive to purchase a new vehicle.

Riverhead Toyota owner Ted Lucki said that while the majority of replacement business has been concentrated up-island, he attributes some new car sales to the gas crisis that immediately followed the storm.

“I think the gas lines that occurred reinforced the perspective of fuel economy and filling up once a week, instead of two or three times,” Mr. Lucki said. “Prices go up and down, but availability scares people and I think it’s reflective of the kinds of cars people are buying these days.”

gvolpe@timesreview.com