After floodwaters inundated parts of the peninsula on Friday, December 23, some local business owners spent the morning mopping up puddles and opened later than expected. Other businesses in more low-lying areas turned into swimming pools. When Graham Hill, one of the partners at The Almeda Club, got to his shop, he found surfboards floating inside and water up to the seats of the barber chairs, as nearly three feet of water had inundated the business.
“I woke up to a slew of calls from neighbors at 7:30 a.m. and I called one neighbor back who said, ‘Yo, your shop…the entire block is under water,’” Hill said. The neighbor wasn’t exaggerating. Hill drove from his home in Rockaway Park to Beach 72nd Street and ran into a major obstacle. “It was so deep, the water was stomach high. I had to turn off of 72nd and park a few blocks down and walk back through the water,” Hill said.
By the time he got to his shop and unlocked the door, what he saw wasn’t surprising. “Everything in the shop was floating. I’m not gonna lie, it was a beautiful sight. It was something we had spoken about happening and it was just this surreal and beautiful moment,” he said. “It felt like, well, this is just stuff, and everyone is okay.”
With that in mind, instead of worrying about the shop, Hill put his thoughts on the people in the apartment building above. “The most severe realization was that the boiler was flooded. It was dropping like 10 degrees an hour and we knew a deep freeze was coming and it’s Christmas weekend. There’s 14 people that live in this building. I don’t live there, I can go home to my warm apartment but that wasn’t the reality for my neighbors,” Hill said.
So they got to work, making sure their neighbors, without heat and hot water, would be taken care of as the chill set in. “We entirely made the mission of the day to help get those people who live upstairs to a safe environment. We started calling hotels and explained the situation and had a friend come over and try to fix the boiler. He couldn’t do anything until the water was going down, so we got our neighbors into a hotel in Far Rockaway for a few days,” he said.
After that successful mission, Hill and his business partner Joseph Falcone turned their focus back to the shop, but thanks to some forward thinking, there weren’t many structural issues to worry about. When Hill and Falcone were building out The Almeda Club in 2020, transforming it from an old grocery store into their surf club/ barbershop/ retail space, they had water on the mind. “We don’t have flood insurance. The premium is just ridiculous, and we figured since we’re all handy by trade—I’m a contractor and Joe is a handy guy—that if we got flooded, we’ll cut our losses and rebuild,” Hill said. So when building out the shop, knowing it wasn’t far from marshland and Jamaica Bay, they made it as resilient as possible. “When we renovated, we poured cement around the perimeter of the entire building and we kept the electric lifted, with the conduits 36 inches off the ground,” he said.
That forward thinking saved most aspects of the shop when the floodwaters came in on Friday, leaving Hill, Falcone and their friend Brent Gentile, who has been a big help, with minimal work to get the space reopened. “If we push, we can probably open by next week,” Hill said.
But there is some work to be done. As the bathroom in the space had drywall, as well as a closet, they will have to be remodeled. But other than that, The Almeda Club’s biggest loss were items. “We lost $25,000 worth of stuff. I lost all my contracting tools that I had been using to work on a project. We lost all the barber tools—some of those buzzers are a few hundred a piece. We had Dyson Air Wands that are $500 each. We lost the furniture, an entire couch, carpets, speakers. Where we really screwed up was by not elevating everything before the storm,” Hill said.
Without flood insurance, Hill and Falcone realized they’d be paying to replace everything out of pocket. But they didn’t want to go the typical GoFundMe route to bounce back. “We had to go into solution mode, and we were very deliberate about not wanting a GoFundMe. If there were hospital bills, then that would be appropriate, but we felt because of the nature of what we lost, we felt a sale was just the thing to do,” Hill said. The Almeda Club, which produces clothing, was readying to drop their winter merch in February, but since the items were already in stock and stored at another location, Hill and Falcone decided to put the merch up on their website early and utilize the sale as a fundraiser to help them bounce back. “We did this because it’s a way for us to still call on our community to ask for help, but it gives them something back,” Hill said.
The sale for their “Flood Relief Winter Capsule” merch, which launched on December 26, was met with tremendous response. “We’ve just about sold out,” Hill said. “There’s been an overwhelmingly positive response from people.” However, that response doesn’t come as a surprise. “We grew up out here and are familiar with how this neighborhood operates and Rockaway has had my back since I was born. We weren’t surprised when people came out for us,” Hill said, adding that giving back to others is in the nature of The Almeda Club’s business, which offers free tutoring for local kids every Thursday, and for several months, had hosted a community fridge.
With only limited items still available and no plans to restock on the winter collection, Hill says other ways that people can support them is by utilizing the business when they’re back open. “Once we reopen, book a haircut or when we get our sauna figured out, consider booking one of those,” Hill suggested.
As for when that will be, Hill says, soon. “Part of our business is a member’s club for surfers to rent lockers and use a changing room, a coffee machine and desk for remote work. That aspect, we’ll have up running next week. The barber shop will take a full month so we’re aiming for the first week of February to reopen that part, and the e-commerce website will remain open,” Hill said.
Overall, Hill says he’s grateful for the support from Rockaway. “We so appreciate the generosity of the community in which we operate,” he said. “There’s nowhere else in the world we could’ve navigated through something like this so together, so quickly.”
The Almeda Club is located at 69-62 Almeda Avenue. For online merch and more info, see: www.thealmedaclub.com