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10 Years Later, Small Businesses Tell Tales of 9/11 Recovery

10 Years Later, Small Businesses Tell Tales of 9/11 Recovery

While statistics show business activity is once again thriving in lower Manhattan, nearly a decade since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks ravaged New York City, business owners whose stores and companies were affected by the disaster say the road to recovery has been long.

An estimated 14,000 businesses were affected by the attacks; some closed shop permanently, some reopened only to struggle with rebuilding their clientele and some sought to become even better than they were before.

Michael Davis, owner of  Elan Flowers, located just blocks from the World Trade Center, said he was forced to close his shop for several months following the attacks.

"It was just devastating," Davis told BusinessNewsDaily. "I was able to get in two weeks later, but I couldn't work out of the shop until December because I had no phone lines."

Davis said his customers would hear either a busy signal or a recorded message from another business when they called in the days immediately following the disaster. Davis estimates he lost 60 percent of business following 9/11.

"A lot of people who called just thought we were gone," Davis said. "Until then, I had a hugely vibrant business."

The months and years of rebuilding proved an incredibly stressful time, he said.

"You didn't get a break on anything. All of our expenses stayed high, but none of the business was coming back," said Davis, who — despite it all — said he never considered closing for good. “I don't think anyone realized how long it would take to get things back to normal.”

While the lower Manhattan area saw a decrease of nearly 800 businesses in the first two years after 9/11, today the area has 130 more businesses than existed previously, according to the Alliance for Downtown New York.

While many businesses had plans to return, some – like home custom furnishings retailer Platypus – were forced to leave after landlords used the events of Sept. 11 to raise rent.

"The owners decided this was an opportunity for them to rebuild down there," said Elaine Russian, managing director of Platypus. "It absolutely did not feel good."

In addition to the loss of that store, one of 10 Platypus stores at the time, Russian said another store in Washington, D.C., that was located across from the Pentagon was inaccessible for more than a year after the terrorist attacks.

"It really almost wiped out the company," Russian said. "It was a big turning point."

Platypus was forced to quickly downsize, a move that Russian believes made the company a better business today.

"I think our company is much more stable," Russian said. "I think 9/11 started that process."

James Mirshamsi’s outcome wasn’t so positive.

Mirshamsi, owner of Trade Center Locksmith & Hardware, managed to reopen after the attacks, and then spent years trying to rebuild his client base. He was still working on it when, six years after 9/11, his landlord forced him out.

"I wish I would have moved from there at the beginning, because the business never really came back," said Mirshamsi, who has since reopened in a new location.

Business owner Donna Childs, meanwhile, said she was well-prepared for a disaster, and was able to keep her financial services business, Childs Capital LLC, operating nearly without interruption.

Childs said she had previously spent time working for a large reinsurance company, where she learned the importance of having contingency plans in place.

Following the terrorist attacks, she immediately activated her previously prepared business and communication backup plans. Those included access to all of the company's computer files, which had been backed up off-site.

"We were just unusually well-prepared," said Childs, who has since authored several books, including "Prepare for the Worst, Plan for the Best" (Wiley, 2009) and started a new business, Prisere LLC, and a nonprofit organization, From the Ground Up, both designed to help small businesses become disaster-resilient.

After enduring the aftermath of Sept. 11 as well as the 2008 recession , Davis said he is optimistic about the future.

"Last year was a great year of hope for me," Davis said.  "I was able to pay down a lot of debt."

He said the experience taught him a lot, and made him realize just how quickly everything can be taken away.

"There is definitely a feeling of accomplishment and pride for having gone through something like this," Davis said.5 Ways to Prepare Your Business For a Natural Disaster

Chad  Brooks
Chad Brooks

Chad Brooks is a Chicago-based freelance writer who has nearly 15 years experience in the media business. A graduate of Indiana University, he spent nearly a decade as a staff reporter for the Daily Herald in suburban Chicago, covering a wide array of topics including, local and state government, crime, the legal system and education. Following his years at the newspaper Chad worked in public relations, helping promote small businesses throughout the U.S. Follow him on Twitter.