photo: Laura Bijnsdorp

PHILIPSBURG – “I started my gym twenty years ago and within a few hours it was gone”, Marci Cooke says as she looks at her torn down business. Just a few buildings away Lidiuska Meyers nail salon ‘Georgina’s Nails’ also suffered the same fate.

Cooke will likely not be reopening her business due to her financial loss. Meyers however reopened her salon three months after hurricane Irma. Both made their decisions due to various financial and personal reasons, but neither was able to count on government relief.

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By Laura Bijnsdorp

St. Maarten Chamber of Commerce (COCI) conducted a preliminary survey to assess the impact on the business community of St. Maarten. 30 percent of the 4000 active businesses registered were part of the survey.

88 percent of businesses indicated that they had sustained damage during and/or after the hurricane. 15 percent of businesses were unsure of reopening and 2 percent indicated that they have closed down their business.

COCI also notes that many new businesses have opened up since the hurricane – many of which construction related. Meyers: “We rebuilt after Hurricane Luis, 22 years ago. We can do it again.”

Future concerns
During the COCI survey; the main concerns of those interviewed included safety, building codes and government aid. Naresh Vaswani owned a few stores on the island. Though the majority will reopen, their Apple Store will not: “Our businesses were greatly affected by the storm and especially during the civil commotion that happened afterwards.”

The owner of the building in which Marci rented the space for her gym had no insurance. He will not be rebuilding. Relocation might also not be an option for Marci: “I loved working at my gym, but it was not a gold mine. To replace what I lost in equipment I’d need over 20.000 dollar, which I do not have.”

‘Too comfortable’
Meyer and her mom had decided to forgo insurance after hurricane Luis, when they did not receive the compensation they expected from the insurance company back then. “Honestly I also think we got a bit too comfortable and assumed we would ‘survive’ other hurricanes as well. We are taking out insurance now.”

Naresh’s Apple Store suffered an enormous loss. Although he did have insurance, he is still waiting for the payout. He does not expect that is will be sufficient an amount so that he can reopen.

Lack of incentives
“Although we have been paying taxes since we opened in 1991, we can’t count on help from the government,” says Lidiuska. To reopen Georgina’s Nails, Lidiuska and her mom had to take a loan of about 60.000 dollar.

Cooke is disappointed that she has not heard of any government incentives to help business owners rebuild after the storm. “With a bit of help maybe it would be possible for me to rebuild.”

Small businesses
Naresh also expresses frustration towards the lack of incentive by the St. Maarten government to aid small businesses in reopening. He explains that incentives such as short tax breaks would help those who had significant damage rebuild faster and hold on to their employees.

“Large operations, such as hotels receive many years of tax breaks on St. Maarten. Yet, small businesses that are the backbone of the economy aren’t taken into consideration at all during a time like this”, he says.