Sandy costs some small businesses, but creates opportunity for others

Few small business owners went untouched by Monday’s superstorm — for some, it cost valuable business, but for others, it brought a surge in customers. Here’s how some Washington area small business owners fared during Sandy:

Lawn Plus, LLC – Stafford, Va.

As the superstorm approached, several small business owners and individuals took to Craigslist to offer a variety of services, such as transportation and emergency roof repair. One even offered to run errands during the storm, for a $20 service fee for orders under $100.00 — mostly for delivering batteries, water, or groceries.

Stafford, Va.-based Lawn Plus, LLC took out an ad to pick up leaves and branches and clear fallen trees, hoping to boost business during a period when yard work begins to slow.

Founder Brandon Cummins said the storm provided an opportunity to keep his crews busy; depending on the landscape and lawn conditions, cleanups can range from $100 to a few hundred dollars, he said.

Cummins’ Craigslist ad drew Lawn Plus at least nine new potential customers seeking estimates by Tuesday morning. Cummins said he would offer at least a 10 percent discount because Sandy is “already placing a financial burden on everyone,” he said.

Bulgogi Cart, L’Enfant Plaza and Farragut Square

The Bulgogi Cart, a Korean food truck often located at L’Enfant Plaza or Farragut Square during the workweek lunch rush, did not venture out Monday and Tuesday because the federal government workers who make up a significant chunk of the cart’s customers were told to stay home.

In two days, the cart typically rings up $2,000 in food sales, according to Catherine Song, whose mother owns the truck. On a good day, the truck can see more than 100 customers during lunch.

Depending on Wednesday’s forecast, the Vienna, Va. family will decide tonight whether to return to the streets, Song said.

“It’s risky still,” she said.

Song is particularly concerned about the loss in business because the family has no secondary income, Song said.

Sidamo Coffee and Tea shop, 417 H Street NE

Kenfe Bellay, owner of H Street Northeast’s Sidamo Coffee and Tea Shop, cut short the shop’s hours on Monday and Tuesday because he said the majority of his five employees couldn’t get to work without the Metro.

During the week, the shop operates from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. — but on Monday and Tuesday, it was open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Bellay said he covered the cost of cabs for those employees who could safely make it to work on Monday, and on Tuesday, he drove to pick them up personally from their homes in Montgomery County.

Despite the shortened hours and depleted staff, Bellay said he saw an increased number of people walking in to get coffee and use the Internet in the late-morning, relative to normal morning foot traffic.

“There’s no work, so it’s like a Sunday schedule,” he said. On a busy day, he sees about a 100 people in total, but by noon on Monday he’d already seen about half that. Tuesday was equally busy.

Sidamo’s second location in Fulton, Md., was closed Monday and Tuesday. Most customers and employees can only access that store via car, and authorities were urging people to stay off the roads.

Because the Fulton shop has been closed for two days, Bellay is concerned about the wasted ingredients in the kitchen, such as milk and vegetables. When he closed the shop on Sunday night, he’d intended to reopen on Monday morning, and therefore didn’t have time to dispose of perishable foods.

Bellay had also rearranged the H Street location’s kitchen to make sure the essential ingredients – his special Ethiopian coffee beans, for example – were placed high up enough to avoid water damage.

In the past six and a half years of Sidamo’s operation, Bellay’s shops have only been closed for a total of three days (mostly during the snowstorm two years ago).

DC Reynolds, 3628 Georgia Ave., NW

Petworth neighborhood restaurant DC Reynolds saw record business on Monday and Tuesday, according to owner Justin Gifford.

As winds picked up Monday, the restaurant offered happy hour drink specials between 11 a.m. and 9 p.m., and the owners decided to offer the deal again on Tuesday as many D.C. residents were asked to stay home from work again. Lunchtime traffic on Monday and Tuesday was three times its usual weekday amount, and Monday’s dinner traffic rivaled that of the restaurant’s usually busy Friday night, Gifford said.

Most of the patrons enjoyed a drink or two during the happy hour with their lunch and dinner, said co-owner Jeremy Gifford, Justin’s brother. Customers likely were experiencing cabin fever and just wanted to get out of the house, he said.

The Giffords said they were fortunate that they and most of their employees live within walking distance from the restaurant. (A Virginia employee was given the day off).

Justin Gifford emphasized that he wasn’t keeping the restaurant open just to make money. “We felt it was a place for the community to come to and gather, and that’s what happened,” he said.

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