2 Bakers Struggle To Get Out From Under Storm

A week without power and sales can be a crushing blow to a small business. Two bakers in Brooklyn, New York, are trying to recover from Superstorm Sandy. Not only have they lost baked goods, they don't have electricity to bake more.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Estimates of the economic cost of the storm damage caused by Hurricane Sandy along the East Coast, are as high as $50 billion. A lot of that is physical damage. Just under half of those losses, though, are from things people didn't, or couldn't, do during the storm; like eat in restaurants, go to the theater, or just work. Reporter Tracey Samuelson brings us this look at the blows Sandy has dealt a pair of small-business owners in New York City.

TRACEY SAMUELSON, BYLINE: Anna Gordon owns The Good Batch, a cookie wholesaler. Late last week, she visited the commercial kitchen in Brooklyn where she works. It was the first time since the storm, so she huffed up six flights of stairs - because the building lost power Monday night; and she made a B-line for the big, walk-in freezer in the back.

ANNA GORDON: So you can tell, it's still pretty cold in here...

SAMUELSON: So she's hopeful as she reaches for a box of ice cream sandwiches.

GORDON: Oh, not so good. We're seeing the ice cream sandwiches - like, right before they fall apart, unfortunately.

SAMUELSON: Gordon shares the kitchen with about a dozen other companies. In the next room, Matt Robicelli is trying to salvage one of the biggest orders his company's ever had. For three months, he worked to land a contract with Madison Square Garden. This order, for over 5,000 brownies, was supposed to help take his small baked-goods company, called Robicelli's, to the next level.

All those brownies were baked, and ready to be delivered, on - you guessed it - Monday, the day the storm hit. So now, he's a big guy in a Three Stooges T-shirt, who is not laughing.

MATT ROBICELLI: We applied for funding from FEMA. We'll see how long that takes. A small-business solution said that they'll - they'll look at loans. But I was like, you know, how long is that loan going to take, you know? It's like, it all comes down to having it now, rather than having it later.

SAMUELSON: Of course, brownies and ice cream sandwiches are far from the greatest casualties of this storm. Both Gordon and Robicelli know that. But this is their livelihood. And because they couldn't bake anything, or deliver to any regulars last week, they have bills to pay - and no money coming in.

Robicelli spent $15,000 up front to buy the ingredients for all those brownies; hire extra staff to make them. And he invested in a machine to cut them - which now, he can't use without power. So he and an employee are doing it all by hand.

ROBICELLI: You learn how to get tougher through this kind of stuff. But hopefully, this one's not bad enough where it just, like, bankrupts you.

SAMUELSON: Do you feel like that's a possibility?

ROBICELLI: We'll see. I don't know. I'm trying to keep a positive note on it but until we get power, it's not looking very good.

SAMUELSON: Robicelli says he thinks he'll lose 10 grand because of the storm. Gordon thinks her hit will be about the same. They both run their businesses with their spouses - which means two families will struggle to make rent this month. And neither of them can pay their employees for the time they're not working; creating a whole other level of hardship, for a new set of people.

But just when it seems like Sandy's hit everyone hard, on the way out - climbing back down those six flights of stairs - we pass Jose Torres(ph), who works for Brooklyn Battery Works. He's loading dozens of boxes into the back of a van.

JOSE TORRES: Actually, we have a delivery, a big delivery to come up. People need their batteries.

SAMUELSON: Torres says with all of the work he's done during the storm, he might even come out ahead.

For NPR News, I'm Tracey Samuelson in New York.

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