Todd Schwartz would challenge any business owner to say that their business was as damaged by the tropical storm following Hurricane Irene as his.
Schwartz, a Towaco resident, owns and said more than $250,000 worth of damage was done to his indoor skatepark facility, in addition to the business losing thousands of dollars in revenue from canceled camp programs and clinics.
One year ago this week, the Changebridge Road business was only acessible by boat as Schwartz made floatation devices out of decorations and salvaged anything he could by pulling items out of the water. While frantically trying to save damaged things, Schwartz said he also used his military Hummer vehicle, which was totaled after the storm, and boat to help his neighbors.
"I realized my business wasn't the most important thing. I started pulling people out," he said.
Schwartz has hundreds of photos of what looks like a lake surrounding GardenSK8. Brown, rippling water reached the door handle of the entrance and left stains on the wooden ramps built in to the park. Originally hand-painted murals were destroyed, sheetrock walls needed to be ripped down because of growing mold and metal on the rails and ramps began to rust. Over $50,000 worth of contents (retail items and any non-permanent fixtures) were damaged alone. Insurance did not cover the damage of any of these items. In fact, Schwartz said he still has not received any reimbursement from insurance at all.
"We lost everything we had to scrounge up [enough money] to get this place open," he said.
Volunteer James Tsilionis, 16, who has been a patron of the business for years, said word spread about the damage and many people stayed away from GardenSK8.
"For a while, a lot of kids were hesitant to come back because they didn't know how it would be," he said.
But several parents of the customers who regularly came to GardenSK8 came forward to volunteer to help with as much as possible when it came to restoring the facility.
"After the hurricane, you found out who your friends are," Schwartz said.
GardenSK8 reopened in November, only after Schwartz felt the facility was safe enough for patrons.
"We did not want to resume recreational activities until we had someone look at the property," he said.
Several to attempt to raise enough money to help the business restore the facility, but Schwartz said more money was spent than raised. So, Schwartz made a decision to focus on what he felt was most important at GardenSK8.
"Rather than build our retail operation, let's focus on giving more terrain and programs," he said.
A patron donated a new ramp that is now taking some of the space that was previously occupied by a retail shop and money was spent to restore as much of the ramps as Schwartz could afford. Professional skateboarders donated autographed boards and murals to be auctioned off and plugged fundraisers at the facility. Still, GardenSK8 has suffered a major loss.
"With the clinics, back to school business and summer camps, there were catastrophic losses that put us in a position that we have yet to even get back to one third of the business we were at this time last year, before Irene," Schwartz said.
Several ramps still need thousands of dollars worth of repairs. But without being subsidized, Schwartz said the skatepark will be closed within the year.
Schwartz said the past year has been the worst, economically, of his life. But he is hopeful GardenSK8 can move forward and continue to offer a safe and fun place for kids to hang out and do something that they love. While Schwartz said there is a long way to go until the business has fully bounced back, in Tsilionis' opinion, GardenSK8 is already there.
"It really has gotten back to what it used to be, which is awesome," he said. "This place is like my second home."