How you can help restore a neighborhood
By Francine Cohen

In mid-November, as New Yorkers were still picking up the pieces of their lives and businesses in the aftermath of Sandy, we received a note from St. John Frizell, owner of Red Hook Brooklyn’s beloved Fort Defiance. Frizell had come up with an ingenious plan to raise some much needed capital for rebuilding his restaurant while providing guests with a way to feel part of the rebuild and enjoy the fruits of his labor – he was offering “junk bonds” (i.e. gift certificates worth 50% of the donation).

The offer to help a favorite bar restore itself back to pre-storm business earnings was appealing on a visceral help your fellow man/reward the small business owner level(see the actual invitation below, including a way to donate without getting a junk bond).

Dear friends of Fort Defiance,

As you may know, our restaurant was badly damaged by Hurricane Sandy. Our basement was completely submerged by the flood waters, and we got about a foot of water in the dining room. We lost tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment and inventory, and we’ve been closed since the storm. Even now, most of our neighbors are still without power. Our insurance company isn’t giving us one thin dime, and all the government offers are diaster loans. So we’re taking it to you, our friends: please help us rebuild!

Here’s the deal: For a limited time, we’re selling our new, beautiful gift certificates (designed by ex-Fortie Jen Storch) on our website ( at TWICE their value. You give us $20, we send you $10 in gift certificates. You send us $1000, we send you $500 in gift certificates. Got it? Junk bonds—not worth what you pay for them! It’s a terrible deal for you, but we really need the money! They would make a great holiday gift for the cocktail lover in your life. Each gift certificate is decorated with an illustration of a cocktail luminary from the past (or present) by a Brooklyn-based comic book artist. The back of each bill shows the water of New York Harbor, that harsh mistress that paid us a calamitous visit two weeks ago.

I’m also on the advisory board of ReStore Red Hook, a nonprofit raising funds to help the small businesses of Red Hook. Please visit that website to see what we’re doing to help, or to make a tax-deductible donation.

We would really appreciate your support in our hour of need. Please forward this email to all of your sympathetic friends and allies, recommend it on Facebook, tweet it, blog about it, etc.

Here are the particulars:
Twitter: @fortdefiance

Thank you so much for your help, and I hope to see you soon at Fort Defiance!

St. John Frizell
Owner, Fort Defiance

But at a time when an entire neighborhood – actually an entire region – was reeling it also raised a lot of interesting questions about the politics and fiscal beliefs of this country and how things are run, where government starts and stops, and who thrives in the end.

Could Frizell’s desire, and the desire of his fellow Red Hook business owners who joined him in creating non-profit ReStore Red Hook ( which puts 100% of funds raised back into the community so that impacted business owners can re-open their doors, re-employ staff, and generally get back to business as usual, be the springboard to answering bigger questions like: How are pioneers in a neighborhood rewarded for their vision and supported in their endeavors to create commerce where previously there’d been little vibrancy there? Don’t we need to re-evaluate what insurance carriers do and don’t cover and lobby for more comprehensive policies and do we have the time to do all this while running a tight margin bar/restaurant or any kind of business in an underserved neighborhood?

What else, aside from a lot of water and debris, did this storm wash ashore that now needs a keen eye put to it?

Certainly this comment from Frizell answers a lot of these questions. He says, “My insurance company is saying that because all my losses were flood-related (damage, loss of inventory, loss of business, etc.) they’re not liable for anything—most businesses here don’t have the only flood insurance available, sold through the federal government via the National Flood Insurance Program. I carry standard comprehensive business insurance, but it’s of no apparent use in this situation. I’m going to fight them, but I’m not hopeful. There have been a couple of good articles on CNN Money that address this

Okay, so we know the answer as to where Fort Defiance stands, but the next question is what are you going to do about it?