From the outside, it is impossible to tell what went on one year ago. Three C's Luncheonette, the small family-owned restaurant by the beach, does not bear visible battle scars from Superstorm Sandy -- not anymore, anyway.
The exterior is intact, several picnic tables line the yard and Brewster, the family golden retriever, mosies around the property. Inside, waitresses are delivering plates of Belgium waffles to hungry locals and tourists.
When Superstorm Sandy made landfall in New Jersey on Oct. 29, Three C’s, the 23-year-old Seaside Park business, was devastated. Owner Gail Coleman and her children left their home, which sits atop the restaurant, behind. Her husband stayed as the floodwaters rose.
Before going to bed, the water had not risen beyond the height of the curb, Coleman said. “[My husband] called me saying, 'We beat it.'"
When he awoke the next morning, the scene was dramatically different. The water was feet deep; cars were floating down the roadway like intertubes. The restaurant was destroyed.
Over the past 12 months, Three C’s was gutted, redecorated and reopened. Underneath the seaside mom-and-pop charm, however, rests a fear that the rising cost of insurance might close their doors forever.
“We’re squeaking by week-to-week, trying to pay our bills. If my husband wasn’t working, I don’t know what we’d do,” Coleman said.
For nearly two months, the family was not permitted to return to their restaurant or home. As the building sat unattended, mold grew and the cost to remedy it skyrocketed.
“I cried so many nights in here when we were tearing everything out,” Coleman admitted. “It’s like they want to drive you out of business.”
Though the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) made grants available to small businesses after the storm, Coleman was not a recipient.
“Nobody got any grants or what you would consider free money. Everyone was able to borrow money if you wanted to, but you had to jump through hoops...,” she said. “We didn’t get any government handouts; we did it with our own money.”
Flood insurance for the restaurant will now cost $3,800 annually. Before the storm struck, New Jersey was already one of the highest-taxing states for small businesses in the country. The expense is one that local mom-and-pop shops are struggling to front.
“It’s the fear of the unknown. If other businesses close, you lose the draw. You lose your draw. If you don’t have people coming here to visit, it’s not sustainable.”
As the Coleman family rebuilds their livelihood, the rest of coastal New Jersey is also undergoing a facelift. The slower months of the year provide an opportunity for construction along Route 35 and other busy roadways, but the winter months also yield a difficult period for businesses.
For now, the year-round luncheonette continues to serve the community, hoping they won’t have to switch off the neon ‘We are Open’ sign indefinitely.
“I was raised to work hard, do for yourself, but if a storm like that happens again, we’re done. We’re not going to open again,” Coleman said. “It’s unthinkable, but I know in my heart I’m going to be done.”
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