First small business checks finally arrive

By Julie Shapiro

Small businesses suffering from the construction Downtown got some relief Wednesday.

The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation distributed its first round of checks to 11 small businesses, giving businesses a total of more than $137,000 this week.

“It’s really great,” said Inder Singh, who owns Tandoor Palace, an Indian restaurant on Fulton St. “It’s a light in the dark.”

Singh estimates that his sales dropped 20 percent since the city tore up the street in front of his shop last year to replace the 150-year-old water main beneath Fulton St. Singh received a $15,000 check from the L.M.D.C. Wednesday, and he said he would use the money to pay overdue bills and spruce up his restaurant. The construction blows dirt onto his building, so Singh is hoping to add a fresh coat of paint. He also wants to install more lights to the building, to make up for the street lights that the city removed.

“It’s not quite a lot,” Singh said of the amount of money, “but it is there. We’re getting back a little bit — really, it helps.”

Another business that received a check Wednesday was O’Hara’s Restaurant & Pub, on Cedar St. beside the former Deutsche Bank building. After two firefighters were killed in the Deutsche Bank fire last summer, O’Hara’s had to stay closed for two weeks, owner Michael Keane said. The fire also burned the restaurant’s awning.

“It makes up for it,” Keane said of the money from the L.M.D.C. “It’s well-needed at this time of the year.”

Keane said doing business in the city can be like “getting kicked in the teeth.” Whenever business owners complain about a problem, the government says that’s just the cost of doing business, he said.

“It’s nice that somebody stepped up and took care of their problem,” Keane said of the L.M.D.C.

The L.M.D.C. announced the $5 million Small Firm Assistance Program last summer and opened the application process last February. To be eligible, businesses must be below Canal St., have fewer than 50 employees and be impacted by public construction. Businesses receive $2.50 per square foot per month affected, up to $25,000. Of the 11 businesses that received checks Wednesday, only one has maxed out so far.

“We’re trying to help the Downtown businesses that were there for us,” said Michael Murphy, spokesperson for the L.M.D.C. “We’re trying to help them survive and thrive.”

Many businesses applied for the grants this spring and were getting antsy to receive the checks, especially when they heard two weeks ago that the city had cut the checks and had given them to the L.M.D.C. Some were waiting for checks to partially compensate them for lost business as far back as July 2007. The L.M.D.C. spent the last three weeks doing a final review to make sure each business was eligible for the federal money.

Businesses have until April 2011 to apply for the grants. The L.M.D.C. recently simplified the application to enable more people to apply.

As the L.M.D.C. continues reviewing applications, “We hope to give out even more money in a shorter period of time,” Murphy said.