Not in the Business of Power


Due to Sandy South Asian Business owners in Staten Island lost more than electricity. 


At his small grocery store in Midland Beach, one of the Staten Island neighborhoods hardest hit by Hurricane Sandy, owner Raj Kumar waits all day, every day – not for customers, but for electricity and water.

“We lost everything,” said Kumar, 34. The store that before Sandy had over a thousand kinds of candy is now left with a few dented cans and soda bottles. “Now we have to stand here like idiots waiting for help.”

Kumar is one of thousands of South Asians on Staten Island, where suburban lifestyle has drawn many migrants from the city’s more traditional but at the same time more crowded Asian communities. The 2010 U.S. census showed the island’s Indian population had doubled in 10 years, to nearly 7,000, while 40 percent of New York’s Sri Lankan population lives on Staten Island.

Singh Harminber estimated the damage at $500,000. CREDIT: Izabela Rutkowski

Although the South Asians don’t live in concentrated communities with clear geographic boundaries, Staten Island’s commercial areas are dotted with the small businesses they have opened — delis, groceries, gas stations and a few small stands in the Staten Island Mall selling knick-knacks, toys or jewelry.

Sandy destroyed dozens of small businesses that for many South Asian immigrants were their only source of income. Kumar’s deli, located seven blocks from Staten Island’s waterfront, was one of them.

“It’s so hard to see my own store like this,” said Kumar, as he pointed out the damage left after the hurricane flooded his basement and first floor. Supplies of groceries stored there were a total loss, as were the store’s refrigerators, showcases and cash registers. Kumar, who immigrated here from India and opened the store 13 years ago, estimates his loss at $1 million.

Some equipment might be salvageable, he said. But to find that out, Kumar has to plug it in – which he can’t do, because the store has been out of power since the storm hit almost two weeks ago. Kumar spends his days camped out in the store, waiting for Con Edison workers, who haven’t arrived yet.

Beach sand and dirty water fill the refrigerators that used to hold beverages at Kumar’s All Night Long Deli and Grocery. The employees still come to work, helping Kumar clean the store and give away whatever they manage to recover – a box of black garbage bags, some bars of soap or a bag of chips that happens to be dry because it sat on the highest shelf.

“This store is our life,” he said adding that it might take up to three months to renovate everything. The store will be closed during that time, but Kumar still has to support his wife, two children and pay his three employees. When he does re-open, Kurma fears business will be slower, because so many Midland Beach residents lost their livelihoods and may have less to spend – or may just move away.

Even a mile inland from Staten Island’s waterfront, raging storm waters brought devastation to a CITGO gas station owned by another Indian immigrant.

“Everything is garbage now,” said the station’s owner, Singh Harminber, 50, explaining that the water in his place reached six feet above the ground. All the gas pumps are ruined, all products in the station’s small shop had to be thrown away, and the damage total is estimated at $500,000.

Harminber said that the station is not in a flood zone, so he didn’t have flood insurance. FEMA and insurance companies denied his applications, but Harminber said he might be eligible for a federal loan. He said that he won’t give up and would keep looking to see if he can get any other assistance from the government.

Zee Anjum threw away three containers full of debris and spoiled groceries. CREDIT: Izabela Rutkowski

“I’m depressed,” Harminber said looking at the empty shelves of his small gas station store.

Water also reached Highline Dairy, another uninsured deli located more than a mile from the shore, in a zone never associated with floods. Owner Zee Anjum, 33, a Pakistani immigrant, dumped spoiled cold cuts, bread, vegetables and other groceries stocked up in the store’s basement.

Although Anjum had no electricity for six days, he used a generator to operate lights and one cash register. For days, his was the only deli open in the neighborhood, as he pumped out flood water and sold non-perishable food. For those who had lost everything in the storm, Anjum gave free cases of water or canned food.

Two other delis have now re-opened in the neighborhood, and Highline Dairy has managed to get some fresh food deliveries. But Anjum’s home in Dongon Hills is still without power and water.

“We sleep in other people’s houses,” he said. “This is my first battle, but there is another one.”




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