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Friday, 14 December 2012 21:59

Northeast Shops Still Recovering from Sandy

When Hurricane Sandy charged into the East Coast in late October, she devastated many homes and businesses. Her most vicious attack was perpetrated in NY and NJ, leaving millions with flooded properties and no power. Sandy’s effects on the auto body industry were no different. Many collision repair facilities in the area were destroyed, and equipment and tools were demolished. Some have still not reopened as of the middle of December.

Three shop owners took the time to share their stories.

Bobby Zigman, owner of Collision Depot in Oceanside, NY, suffered personal and business losses as a result of Sandy since his home is near his shop and both were flooded. Zigman notes that the storm left five or six feet of water in his shop and parking lot, completely wiping out all of his shop and office equipment.

Though Collision Depot technically remained open after the storm, the flooding ruined equipment and lack of both phone connections and electricity prevented them from performing any actual repair work for about two weeks. Zigman’s dedicated employees still went to work, and he paid them to help restore the shop and clean their tools and equipment. Since then, Collision Depot has installed some generators. Even though they are now fully operational, they are still restoring their building and replacing the $750,000 loss in equipment as they go, due to a lack of insurance.

More than 250,000 cars in the NY and NJ area have been totaled due to severe flooding, and Zigman notes a decrease in business because of the vast number of destroyed cars and the influx of rental vehicles in the area. He shares that though he is receiving occasional repair requests caused by the storm, his only hope for now is for the general public to get back on their feet. Zigman says he has noticed increased difficulties with insurance companies as they are investigating claims in greater depth and just generally giving consumers a harder time obtaining repairs. They’ve opted to total many of the damaged vehicles. The insurers have also given Collision Depot some problems regarding partially and fully repaired vehicles that had not yet been picked up; the insurers are objecting to paying for the repairs on vehicles that were totaled by Sandy’s flooding.

Despite the challenges that he faces daily, Zigman maintains a positive outlook and puts his efforts and focus into rebuilding. He states, “What gets me through living with this tragedy is remembering 9/11 and knowing this is nothing but lifestyle changes compared to what others went through then. We will get through this.”

Burnside Collision of Inwood, NY, was similarly struck by Sandy’s devastating impact. With several feet of water in their office, all computers and desks were destroyed and had to be replaced. Over two feet of water in their work area demolished their equipment, submerging and ruining their spray booth motor and their Car-O-Liner’s mechanisms. Additionally, the flooding destroyed a number of partially and fully repaired vehicles stored on the property, including police cars and Burnside’s tow truck. All of this destruction forced owner Ronnie Marciano to shut down for two and a half weeks.

Though Marciano has noticed an influx in repair business since the storm, he initially had to turn away a great deal of business due to the damage done to his shop, thus losing potential business in addition to the loss of work-in-progress. Several completed cars were also destroyed, and one completed repair which was being stored was completely flooded out, forcing Marciano to fight with the insurance company in order to get paid for the work he had already completed. In addition to the general frustration of declining customers’ repair requests, Marciano faced the difficulty of expenses without the ability to capture business and revenue. Burnside Collision’s current focus is on repairing and replacing the equipment damaged by the storm.

Marciano’s house was also flooded, as was his estimator’s and office manager’s homes. Employees who were not affected came to the shop to start working on repairs and get the business back up and running, said Marciano—a credit to his employees’ dedication and his relationship with them. Because of this extra effort, Burnside Collision was able to meet payroll obligations instead of utilizing FEMA’s layoff program.

Noting that insurance companies are currently focused on picking up submerged cars, Marciano expects to see more storm-damaged vehicles in the future. He suggests that many consumers may not yet realize that their cars were damaged by salt water, and he also suspects that some people have avoided submitting claims for fear their insurer will total their vehicle. Though insurers are totaling many cars, Marciano notes that they’ve returned to standard procedure with handling claims. Initially, the volume of claims was overwhelming, causing delays, but by using independent appraisers to manage their volume, insurers have been able to return to normal processing times. Burnside Collision has seen very few flooded cars come in for repairs due to the challenge that owners face when trying to retain their vehicles. Marciano believes that insurance companies should be making decisions on a case-by-case basis instead of making a blanket decision to total so many vehicles.

In spite of their own problems, Marciano and his staff helped unload a truck filled with supplies sent from Florida to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Marciano sees this tragedy as a learning experience, stating “We will pick up the pieces and work diligently to move forward and develop better plans for the future to become a better, more prosperous business than before.”

Of the three shops described here, Tony D’s Auto Body of Atlantic Highlands, NJ, seems to have suffered the most severe losses. Owner Tony Dellapietro notes, “We lost everything. And I mean everything!” With five feet of water in the shop, all of his tools and equipment were destroyed. With the help of his parents and dedicated employees, Dellapietro has begun cleaning and oiling his equipment, but not his personal toolbox, which he began accumulating when he was 11 years old. He laments, “I started this business in 2003. What I built in ten years was wiped out in ten hours.”

Because of difficulties with his insurance, Dellapietro has been forced to explore loan options to avoid having to close. He has purchased new office desks and computers, and an electrician has replaced outlets in the shop. For now, everything is still up in the air as the funds for shop repairs just aren’t there. Dellapietro has been forced to utilize his savings and other assets, and being forced to turn business away has been devastating. “You just don’t get rich in this business,” says Tony. He has been unable to turn a profit since Sandy, and the bills just keep accruing.

Employees of Tony D’s are currently relying on unemployment insurance since the shop is still closed. Dellapietro is busy dealing with disaster unemployment issues. On the day that Sandy hit, police had to force Dellapietro out of the building, but he could not extract the cars he was working on as there was already three feet of water in the yard. All seven cars in his shop were totaled, whether partially or fully repaired. Dellapietro admits that he was very emotional when he saw how badly his shop was damaged, and he has been seeking spiritual comfort. He has no clue when he will be able to reopen, and he notes “It feels like I’m starting over again.”

These three shops are just a small sampling of the businesses that were damaged by Sandy. There are many options to contribute aid for Sandy’s victims. 

One such option is Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, P. O. Box 95, Mendham, NJ 07945-0095.

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