Philadelphia businesses finally reopen after Ida, just as hurricane season arrives

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Nine months after Ida caused record flooding along the Schuylkill River, some businesses in Manayunk and East Falls are finally reopening, just as hurricane season begins again.

Several spots are returning with modified services, such as a brewery that has stopped making beer, or an old bar that has turned into a haunted house. Some are still closed – including a US post office – and a few closed for good.

“What hurt the most was that these companies were almost putting COVID in the rear view mirror and then it hit at the same time,” Leo Dillinger of the Manayunk Development Corporation told Billy Penn.

In the two riverside neighborhoods, people are preparing for similar storms in the future. Experts predict another above-average hurricane season this summer.

Greg’s Kitchen is still awaiting permission to open, said owner Greg Gillin, who hopes it’s in time for the Manayunk Arts Festival on June 25.

“If I could go back in time, I’d go to September and be like ‘it’s going to be nine months…you gotta find a new place,'” he said. But now that there is “light at the end of the tunnel”, he is eager to reopen.

The Main Street restaurant itself was not flooded, he explained, but the basement took on 7 feet of water, fatally damaging the building’s electrical system. An estimated initial lead time was 4 to 6 weeks, but a “perfect storm” of inconvenience dragged that out, Gillin said. Supply chain issues, scarcity of subcontractors and numerous bureaucratic processes caused one delay after another.

During all this time, he had no income. He did not receive any money from his insurers because they would not cover a water-related event. He got a loan from the Small Business Administration and applied for grants, but that won’t make up for the loss of business he suffered. That cost dwarfed the loss of equipment and food from basement flooding, he said.

Ida caused more than $100 million in damage to public infrastructure in Pennsylvania, officials said. For business owners in Manayunk and East Falls alone, the storm had a multi-million dollar impact. Several said they asked for relief from FEMA but did not get it.

Matt Rourke/AP Photo

Plans changed, lessons learned

Urban flooding is becoming a bigger problem around the world for several reasons.

“Climate change is part of it, obviously, with more rain and more frequent storms,” ​​said Xavier Leflaive of the International Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, which studies climate change and water. At the same time, “as cities grow, it is likely that impervious surfaces will increase and increase runoff.”

Philadelphia was work for a decade on his “Green city, clean waterswhich aims to increase the amount of porous surfaces in the city. It has kept 2.7 billion gallons of polluted water out of rivers since its launch in 2011, according to the Philadelphia Water Department.

Leflaive suggested that companies should aim to “build back better” rather than rebuild like before. “It’s wise to consider those risks because you don’t want to be hit again.”

Brian Corcodilos is doing something totally different – and not entirely by choice. In March last year, he bought the building that used to be the Manayunk Mad River party bar, planning to find another bar or restaurant as a tenant.

In September, Ida hit. The building, which dates to the late 1800s, has seen flooding every few years, Corcodilos said, but never so extreme. When the water level rose seven feet above the first floor, he knew it would cut his chances.

“Everyone saw this building on every media outlet in Philadelphia” as one of the flooded properties, Corcodilos said.

Now, instead of renting the space, it plans to open a haunted house will operate on Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings in October. It will also open on Saturdays during the day for “non-spooky” and family-friendly festivities. He plans to hire actors, makeup artists, and security personnel, and hopes his clients will frequent other Manayunk businesses before or after their haunted house experience.

“I know I’m going to be flooded again, but I don’t know if it will be that extreme. The business I set up there should be able to weather that if it happens again,” Corcodilos said.

For some companies, post-Ida changes are hard to see in a positive light.

Manayunk Brewing Company was able to reopen its bar and restaurant in February, but stop brewing beer. Ida flooded the space with 9 feet of water, overturning his beer tanks, and he allegedly costs $500,000 to restoreowner Mike Rose told the Philadelphia Business Journal.

J. Littlewood & Son, which had operated a dye business for over 150 years in Manayunk, had to close permanently. The Verilife marijuana dispensary on Main Street in Manayunk, which opened in June 2020, was also forced to close.

Ida Flood in East Falls, September 2021
Lizzy McLellan Ravitch/Billy Penn

Not if, but when?

As the first anniversary approaches, the East Falls Development Corporation is working to find resources to help the community with ’emotional and mental health issues or trauma’ related to Ida’s impact, the executive director said. Michelle Feldman to Billy Penn.

“We are a riverside community. It’s one of the many amazing things about East Falls. It also means that when these events happen, we bear the brunt of them,” Feldman said.

One of the hardest hit places was the post office, she said, which remains closed. Another was the In Riva restaurant, which just reopened on May 20.

The Major Wing Lee Grocery Market, known for selling cheap hoagies alongside other everyday goods, was also badly flooded. It reopened on May 6, and on a recent Wednesday afternoon, less than a month later, it was buzzing with customers.

“After 40 years, I have a good following,” said owner Doi Dang.

After the storm, Dang tried to use his insurance to pay for the damage, but neither the floods nor the liability insurance helped him – “they didn’t want to deal with my public adjuster”, he said. declared. He asked for help from FEMA, but it was unsuccessful.

He was able to pay for the repairs using a “nest egg” from savings. The store was closed for 8 months, Dang said, but he believes it could have reopened sooner had it had insurance or government support.

Still, he is “not worried” about the future potential for severe flooding at his store. Besides Ida, there has only been one other flood in its 40 years of operation, he said.

“We remain optimistic,” development company director Feldman said, but “we know Ida won’t be a once-in-a-century storm.” The organization is developing proactive measures to prepare, some in collaboration with community organizations in Manayunk.

Dillinger, from Manayunk, said his group now sends an email alert to his businesses when major storms are expected in the Schuylkill River area. “You don’t want to scare people off, but you also want to prepare them.”

Gillin, of Greg’s Kitchen, said the next time there was a big storm, he planned to start running a pump early and continuously, so water couldn’t pool.

“These things are apparently happening with more frequency and more intensity,” Gillin said. “It will definitely happen again at some point – whether it’s 50 years from now and I’m dead, or 10 years from now, or this hurricane season.”

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