Daniel Cooney of Daniel Cooney Fine Art says that when he walked to his gallery in the Naftali Building at 508-526 W 26th Street on November 1, “All you could hear walking around Chelsea was the sound of generators powering pumps.” The pumps have been pumping water out of the basements in the area, located on the far west side of Manhattan, which flooded when the storm surge from Hurricane Sandy pushed water from the Hudson River over the West Side Highway and then two blocks eastward.
Some galleries in Chelsea experienced damage both to their spaces and their art work. Art work that was stored in basement storage facilities has been damaged. Printed Matter, the nonprofit art bookstore located on 10th Avenue in Chelsea, asked for volunteers to help empty sodden books from their basement. Ruined books were stacked on the curb.
Electricity has been out in lower Manhattan since the storm surge from the East River swamped a power station on E. 14th Street on Monday night. Several galleries have been closed as result. Con Edison, the power company serving the area, said electricity might be restored by Saturday or as early as tonight. That would be good news for galleries on the Lower East Side, including Sasha Wolf Gallery and Anastasia Photo, which have been closed since the storm, and in the Dumbo section of Brooklyn, an area that experienced both power outages and some flooding at the height of the storm.
Many galleries in Chelsea, however, face a more daunting challenge. While some, like Daniel Cooney Fine Art, Clampart Gallery, Robert Mann Galleries and others located on upper floors avoided flooding, the damage to wiring, elevators and boilers in the basements of some buildings may prevent the return of business as usual for a while.
Cooney got his first look at the damage to the Naftali Building, home to several galleries and artists’ studios, on Tuesday Oct 30. The streets were mostly dry, but when he arrived at the building, he says, “The pressure from the water in the basement had broken the door, we could see that the water was to the ceiling.”
Cooney says his gallery, located on the 9th floor, suffered little damage in the storm. Before the storm arrived, he had sealed the windows of his storage room with bubble wrap (“It was what I had”) and moved artwork from the storage room to his gallery space, which has no windows.
When he returned on Thursday, November 1, a pump had emptied most of the water from the Naftali Building’s basement which was used to store artwork by many of the galleries and artists in the building. People were carrying art out of the basement in the afternoon. “They were cutting into the bubble wrap and water was just pouring out.” The wet art work included paintings and photographs, he said. Some artists were carrying them through the lobby and up the stairs, leaving trails of water.
Cooney says that because of the high water in the basement—where electrical boxes, the boiler and elevators motors are located, “It is unclear what damages have been sustained. The electricity in Manhattan is supposed to be back on Saturday but there is no telling when the building’s electricity will be on.”
Given how many lives and homes have been destroyed in the storm, Cooney says he feels lucky. And certainly damage to art galleries isn’t a tragedy on the same scale, but gallery owners rely on sales for their livelihood. The longer they are unable to open, the bigger their risk. “I don’t get a paycheck. If I’m not selling anything I can’t pay my bills.” Cooney says, “There are other galleries that have to revamp and have lost huge amounts of inventory.” He adds, “I am very lucky to have power at home in Hell’s Kitchen so I have set up a home office which works fine for now.”
Flood damage is excluded from most insurance policies unless business owners specifically buy flood coverage, says principal Scott Taylor of Taylor & Taylor Insurance. It’s unclear whether most galleries in Chelsea carry flood insurance or not, but banks typically require it prior to making loans to any business located in a designated flood zone.
Taylor notes that anyone who suffered property loss or damage due to flooding from Hurricane Sandy is eligible for loans from the federal government, because New York has been declared a federal disaster area. The loans, of course, are not insurance reimbursements–anyone who takes advantage of the FEMA loan program will have to pay back the money they borrow, something that may not be easy businesses remain closed.