Toto's after Hurricane sandy hit (left). John Toto relaxes for a moment during the June "grand reopening" of Joe & John's Toto's Restaurant, which was completely destroyed by Hurricane Sandy. (RIGHT) (Staten Island Advance/Bill Lyons)

STATEN ISLAND ADVANCE — More than one year after Hurricane Sandy ravaged the borough, industry leaders are still unsure of toll the storm took on Staten Island’s business community.

In fact, it’s still unclear how many businesses were affected. And there’s an unknown number of merchants who have yet to recoup losses after the storm ripped across the borough on Oct. 29, 2012.

That’s why the Staten Island Chamber of Commerce is working with the NY Rising committee to query affected merchants via a new survey that will determine how to help them get back on their feet post-Sandy.

“There is a lack of information coming from one source about the affect Sandy had on Staten Island’s business community. We need to reach out to the business community so we can better prepare for the next time around. There is nothing out there that measures the vacancy rates prior to Sandy and post-Sandy,” said Linda Baran, Staten Island Chamber of Commerce president.

“A lot of businesses affected by Sandy have said business is down 30 to 40 percent…There are abandoned properties next to some of the businesses that have gotten back into business, and those are becoming problematic,” she added.

The Chamber has a list of more than 4,000 Island businesses, which they hope will participate in the “NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program/Staten Island/East and South Shore Business Interview Form” survey, being launched on Monday.

“We want to get as much feedback as possible,” said Ms. Baran, noting she’s hoping business owners will fill out and submit the survey within a two-week time frame.

The survey was born as an arm of the NY Rising project, which is an eight month state and borough initiative launched in September that will award Staten Island $25 million to pay for a host of upgrades under the banner of post-Sandy reconstruction.

A committee — made up civic and community leaders — aims to determine the types of funding, infrastructure and overall general help the Island needs to fully recover from the worst storm to ever hit the area.

“The governor has asked community members to identify local needs in the community, and in conjunction with planning firms, work to identify gaps that may exist within programs and/or projects. We also hope to build on existing programs in order to allow more economic development, and to help small businesses recover after Sandy,” said Alex Zablocki, city regional lead for the NY Rising Community Reconstruction program.

Of the Chamber’s survey, Zablocki said, “Businesses need to be interviewed so we can learn about their needs post Sandy. We want to get more of the temperature of how business is after the storm… Have they reopened? Did they relocate? Did they have to reduce the number of employees post Sandy? etc..”

The Chamber will be utilizing CUNY Service Corps interns from the College of Staten Island (CSI) in Willowbrook who will help interview Sandy-affected merchants and assist them with the survey.

On the survey, the Chamber is also working with the Princeton, N.J.-based consulting firm, RESGroup, and Cynthia Scarinci, professor at CSI,with hopes of making the borough’s business community stronger than it was before Hurricane Sandy hit.

“We’re going to use the survey results combined with the interviews of local business leaders and business authorities, and based on the information we will help ensure the local business community is resilient going forward,” said Randy Nigrelli, director of the Princeton, N.J.-based RESGroup.

Those involved with the survey hope that it will identity merchants’ needs that can be met with long-term solutions.

“It could mean grant money to raise (buildings), flood-proofing storefronts, completely redesigning commercials corridors, or maybe finding gaps in financial assistance programs, such as if small businesses have been struggling to get Small Business Administration (SBA) loans,” said Zablocki.

To participate in the survey, click here, or call the Chamber at (718) 727-1900.

This story was written by Tracey Porpora and first appeared in the Staten Island Advance and on December 2, 2013. It is reprinted here with permission.