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Office Comforts for Damaged Businesses

October 8, 1992

MIAMI (AP) _ The electricity is on, the telephones work, and best of all, the temporary office space for small businesses ejected by Hurricane Andrew is dry.

″You don’t need a lot to make money. You just need a place to get going,″ said Bob Pucillo, who runs Action Steam Cleaning with his wife, Flori. ″We’re at a point right now where we’re just trying to survive.″

They are among the first tenants renting low-cost space at a temporary office center set up by the Beacon Council, a business development agency.

Many small businesses run on a shoestring, and the loss of a few weeks’ sales is enough to kill them. The council estimates 7,800 companies employing 50,000 workers are in danger of failing because of Hurricane Andrew.

Hurricane Hugo wiped out about 40 percent of small businesses in South Carolina, but Southern Bell field studies indicate only 20 percent of the businesses in Andrew-damaged southern Dade County won’t be back.

Retailers are the biggest losers because many simply can’t reopen in damaged stores. Service companies that don’t rely on walk-in traffic or big inventory are more flexible.

The 13,000-square-foot office space arranged by the council in an office complex 15 miles north of the hurricane zone won’t solve everyone’s problem.

But 50 companies can rent a work station for $250 a month or a 10-by-15- foot office for $450 a month through Dec. 31. Seven had signed up by the second week.

The space is subsidized by AT&T, Office Depot and others and comes with furniture, telephones, copiers, facsimile machines, conference rooms, mail sorting and coffee. A desktop computer is free for each tenant who stays the full three months.

The Pucillos operated their business, cleaning air conditioning coils, out of their garage at home until the storm ″took the roof off. Then everything turned into a swimming pool.″

They’re spending much of their time dealing with contractors to repair the $85,000 in damage to their house. They moved in with her parents but don’t want to monopolize their phone.

″I don’t need a real showroom,″ Pucillo said. ″We take calls. We do our typing for proposals, and we’re just not the kind of company where people come in to have something done. It’s strictly mobile service.″

He checked out other office space but couldn’t find anything reasonably affordable until he read about the Beacon Council center.

Other tenants include an accountant, a custom computer designer, an architect, electrical company, seafood business and tour office.

Alphonso Gill, whose uninsured house served as his office for Data Designs until Andrew caused $65,000 worth of damage, called the temporary space ″a blessing.″ He said he won’t work at home anymore.

″I will not take that chance again. You know that saying about putting all your eggs in one basket,″ he said.

His church has pledged to help rebuild his home. ″If it wasn’t for that, I would really be in sad shape.″

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