Long Beach, NY—The aftermath of Sandy left Long Beach, NY looking like a scene from a disaster movie. This is what Bob Binder, owner of Bob’s Natural Foods in Long Beach woke up to weeks ago. His normally below-average blood pressure skyrocketed as he surveyed the damage of his own home and business as well as everyone’s ruined belongings scattered around him in his once quiet, happy seashore town. Faced with a devastated home and store flooded with three feet of water and no electricity, heat or clean water, Binder went to work gutting everything he owned in hopes of salvaging his house and his business.

“The biggest obstacle was adapting and surviving in this new environment,” he said. “First a hurricane, then a Nor’easter. As one person said, ‘When are the locusts coming?’…The pressure of everything was overwhelming.”

Bob's storefront before Sandy hit (from Bob's Facebook).

The store once held a thriving café, where Binder sold house-made food and smoothies, and had a hoard of loyal, local customers. Now, with the boardwalk swept out to sea and the beaches contaminated, people are packing up and leaving town and tourists won’t be back for a long time. All Binder can do is disinfect his home, throw out his spoiled merchandise and hope for the best.

People from the community offered Binder firewood and generators, along with volunteering to help clean the store. Unfortunately, not everyone was so caring, despite being in the same water-logged shoes. In spite of the situation, the owners of the building in which Bob’s is housed has demanded that every tenant pay rent for the past month, although the building has been without heat and hot water for weeks, says Binder. He and his fellow storeowners are trying to rebuild their businesses, but without the insurance money flowing in yet, the owners won’t begin repairs.

“Some people know the price of everything and the value of nothing,” says Binder in response to this harsh contrast of behaviors.

Binder knows, however, that even the smallest gesture of kindness can bring some light to an otherwise dark situation. While he was cleaning his store one evening, a customer came to the door. He talked with Binder, lamenting the problems he was having caring for his family and his home and the pain he himself was feeling. Ever the concerned shop-owner, Binder suggested a supplement to help him with his physical problem, knowing that it was at least something he knew he could help with. When the man offered to pay, Binder waved away his money.

“I said, ‘No…This one is on me,’” said Binder. “I just couldn’t bring money into the exchange. It would cheapen it, devalue it. In fact, when I wouldn't take it, his face lit up and he smiled.”

Binder and his crew did everything they could to reopen the shop, hoping to reopen their doors soon after Thanksgiving. Until then, Binder won’t lose faith; he’s survived larger stores opening that almost drove him out of business in the past and even a fire back in the 1980s, so he knows his customers will come back.

“Once upon a time in a small village in a far away land, a young man opened a small shop. He sold all kinds of foods and potions that were strange to most of the people who lived there…Little by little, over the seasons, more people came,” Binder said. “And the people came back. And the grown children of his first customers bought their children. And they sat and ate and the walls echoed with their laughter. And the old man was happy.” WF

Back to Main Story: Profiles in Perseverance

Published in WholeFoods Magazine, January 2013 (online 11/26/12)