ATLANTIC CITY — The showroom at Philip Weinberg’s furniture store looks much like it did before Hurricane Sandy — except for the new carpet.
More than a month after the storm plowed into Atlantic City, Mel’s Furniture and Factory Direct Bedding is fully stocked for customers who are eager to replace the sofas, chairs and bedroom sets they lost to flooding.
The second-generation store that Weinberg runs with his brother, Ronald Weinberg, both of Margate, had survived coastal storms such as the northeaster of 1962 without incident, Weinberg said. But Hurricane Sandy on Oct. 29 was in many ways worse, he said.
He evacuated his home on the island to spend the storm in Cherry Hill. When he was allowed to return to the island many days later, he was surprised and disheartened by what he found.
“Nobody dreamed it would be like this. There was seaweed and sand and debris from the Boardwalk all over the place,” he said. “Signs and even telephone poles were bent over. It looked like a war zone.”
His staff had stacked sandbags 2 feet high in front of every door to keep water from getting in, but it did anyway. About 20 inches of water flooded a utility room where they had recently replaced the water heater. Fortunately, it had been turned off during the storm or the store would have had to replace the entire system, he said.
The store took the precaution of hiring a remediation company before the storm made landfall. The contractor got to work as soon as police reopened the island to residents.
“We had to rip out all the carpets. That was a 10-hour process,” he said. “Then we had the mold experts in here for three days drying out the business and shooting chemicals on the walls. They test the moisture content in the walls.”
It took three days to lay new carpeting across the store's showroom. The last of the replacement furniture arrived during the first week of December. Now the business is more or less back to normal, he said.
Atlantic City’s small businesses did not have a typical recovery time because of the uneven distribution of storm damage, said Joseph Kelly, president of the Greater Atlantic City Chamber.
“It really depends on where the business is and how much damage it had. A number of small businesses did not have any structural damage or flooding that caused them to shut down,” he said. “It impacted different people differently. Clearly, flooding was the major issue for businesses that did have an interruption. But in many cases, we had folks who reopened as soon as power was restored.”
Kelly said the one constant among Atlantic City’s business community is its uniform message.
“They’re ringing the bell that we’re open and ready to serve customers. That is consistent,” he said.
The Weinberg brothers took over the family business on Atlantic Avenue from their late parents, Melvin and Zelda. Today, it's one of the longest-tenured furniture stores in Atlantic County.
The store is a dealer for Ashley, Lea, Klaussner and Vaughan-Bassett, among others. Weinberg said the manufacturers have replaced inventory at favorable terms.
“They were more than gracious. Factories have given us special pricing, so we can pass that along to customers,” he said.
Almost immediately, orders picked up as residents in Atlantic City and the outlying communities began to replace furniture lost to the storm. But Weinberg said he expects demand to remain strong through much of next year.
“Unfortunately, a situation like this creates a stimulus for the economy,” he said. “Every business will benefit as people buy new washers, dryers, refrigerators, carpeting, furniture. A lot of people still don't have heat yet."
Weinberg said the storm gave him some perspective on how lucky he and his family have been over the years.
Weinberg said his daughter, Jaime Weinberg, has helped to feed storm victims for the American Red Cross in Staten Island, N.Y., which suffered far greater damage than Atlantic City. He said the storm has made him feel a little more resilient as a small-business owner.
"I'm not going to take things for granted for a long time," he said. "Sometimes, you don't know how much you'll have to step up. The next day you could just fall apart. One storm could just wash everything away."