Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Store owners hope for aid from city, feds


Officials try to tally uninsured losses

By Ken Alltucker
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Federal officials will be asked to provide financial assistance for more than 120 businesses damaged by last week's spree of vandalism, theft and fire, Cincinnati and Hamilton County officials said Monday.

        Monday, city workers canvassed Walnut Hills and the Findlay Market area and questioned business owners in an attempt to figure total damage. They need to calculate loss not covered by insurers to be eligible for Small Business Administration disaster recovery loans.

        “Every day we find more damage,” said Evonne Kovach, director of the city's Economic Development Department. “Some of the busi nesses are throwing out dollar amounts. They, too, are just guessing at this point.”

        The possibility of low-interest loans or other aid is welcome news to businesses like Cincinnati Color Co. paint store, at 14th and Vine streets in Over-the-Rhine. It suffered losses of thousands of dollars.

        Workers on Monday busily replaced one of five broken windows. The other four remain boarded.

        “We wanted to put two in,” said sales manager Doug Deifel, “but they ran out of glass.”

        Mr. Deifel said sales are down $8,000 a day since the riots, and walk-in business is virtually nonexistent. They have left the front door open to remind people they are open.

        “They drive by and call on their cellphones and ask if we're open,” store clerk Joe Reynolds said.

        Ms. Kovach estimates more than 120 businesses are damaged in Over-the-Rhine, West End, Walnut Hills, Avondale, Westwood, Madisonville and downtown. Some have replaced broken windows. Others, such as Deveroes, suffered massive inventory losses and remain closed.

        To be eligible for the SBA's low-interest disaster loans, 25 or more businesses must have suffered an uninsured loss of at least 40 percent of their value, said Mike Allen, the SBA's area director of disaster assistance in Atlanta.

        Because most insurers cover losses for rioting, that will be a difficult number for Cincinnati to achieve, Mr. Allen said.

        Another SBA loan program for businesses that have suffered economic loss could be more realistic for Cincinnati. These low-interest loans provide money to help a business cover operating costs, but they're distributed only to firms that can't get financial help elsewhere.

        Don Maccarone, director of Hamilton County Emergency Management Agency, is gathering damage reports from the city. He plans to forward reports to state emergency management officials.

        The SBA programs are triggered only if President Bush declares a state of emergency or the SBA's top administrator approves the emergency loans.

        “I'm not trying to falsely raise anybody's hopes or expectations for assistance,” Mr. Maccarone said, “because this is kind of a new situation for us.”

        Businesses could find more immediate relief from the city. If City Council approves, Ms. Kovach's department will establish a $250,000 fund to repair broken windows. Businesses can be eligible for $2,000 grants to pay for costs not covered by insurers.

        Ms. Kovach said the idea is to keep businesses open during a difficult period when they are most vulnerable. The fear is some may permanently close.

        Cincinnati Color's management is looking for sites outside Over-the-Rhine.

        Mr. Deifel said “there is a real possibility” of layoffs if sales don't improve. Cincinnati Color, which opened in 1952, typically has 17 to 20 employees.

        Enquirer reporter Tom O'Neill contributed.

       



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