Coping With Disaster One day at a Time

Keeping busy keeps many small-business owners from breaking down in the face of devastation

Every day, Banchet Bianca Jaigla's drivers delivered flowers to her biggest client, Windows on the World, the world-famous restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center. Traffic congestion in lower Manhattan on Tuesday morning prevented the last scheduled delivery before the devastating attack.

On Friday, her new, 350-square-foot flower cooler was filled with the berry branches, green hydrangea, lilies, and orchids that were ready to be delivered to Windows on the World the morning that two jumbo jets hijacked by terrorists crashed into the twin towers.

"It's kind of strange," says employee Dorian Butovich, referring to the restaurant's flowers standing undelivered and untouched in the cooler. "We walk around them. No one wants to move them."

Despite the numbing shock, sadness, and loss of a major client, life and business went on last week for Jaigla and her staff of 6 full-timers and 5 part-time workers. While thousands of rescue and construction workers labored at what has come to be called Ground Zero, her two trucks continued to deliver flowers to clients around the city. Fighting back tears, she kept her floral assistants busy preparing flowers for a bar mitzvah in Manhattan and a wedding in Greenwich, Conn. "The minute I stop [working], I'm in mourning," says Jaigla. "I get sick to my stomach -- I think, I worry. When I'm busy with my work, I don't think about it so much."


  Jaigla is grateful that she has her work to take her mind off the people she knows are missing and believed dead. Though she was cheered by the news that the owner and general manager of Windows on the World did not perish, Jaigla is consumed by sorrow for those whose lives were lost in the horrific collapse. "My main concern is for the people who were in Windows on the World," she says. "That's all I can think about right now." Like other small-business owners throughout New York City, Jaigla was doing everything she could to cheer up her employees "and keep them busy."

"They are the most important thing to me," she says. "Every time they stop to think, they start to cry. All I can do is hug them and say, 'It wasn't our time.'" Although many flower orders were cancelled in the wake of the tragedy, Jaigla and her staff keep busy to maintain their collective sanity. "If we didn't," she explains, "I don't know what we'd do."

Filling flower orders for the now-destroyed restaurant represented about a third of Jaigla's business. She's grateful for her other well-known clients, including the Lutece and Le Bernadin restaurants, as well as corporate clients. Jaigla, who has been in business for 18 years, said she still plans to open a new store on Washington Street in the meat-packing district on Oct. 24. She chose the location because it was only 10 minutes from the World Trade Center -- and what used to be her biggest client, the famous restaurant at the top of the building.

"I can laugh and cry about all this," says Jaigla, "but all I can do is take it one day at a time. We are all going to suffer. Hopefully, I can keep going, find more business, and move forward."


  Thousands of small companies suffered enormous financial and emotional losses in the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center. Amy Kopelan, CEO and owner of Bedlam Entertainment in Manhattan, also was severely affected by the tragedy. On Tuesday morning, she was dealing with the last-minute details for a high-profile event she produces called "The Corporate State." The event, scheduled for Sept. 13, is a prestigious summit for women CEOs and senior managers. Speakers and corporate sponsors -- 125 in all -- from all around the U.S. were due to begin the conference with a private reception at the Four Seasons hotel.

As soon as she heard the news of the terrorist attacks in downtown New York and on the Pentagon in Washington, Kopelan began making phone calls to reschedule the event. In six hours, assisted by conference calls set up by a colleague in Arizona, she had rebooked the entire event, including the hotel, flower vendors, sound technicians, photographers, keynote speakers, and all the executives planning to attend.

"I managed to get through to all 125 people," says Kopelan, a former television producer who is used to working under extreme pressure. "They all said they'd be here in January." Everyone she contacted on that life-changing morning, she says, was "overwhelmingly supportive."

"Everyone said, 'Whatever you need, we'll be there,'" Kopelan says. "The program is intact, the sponsors are intact, and the support team is intact." For Kopelan, maintaining forward momentum by immediately rescheduling the event was her way to cope with disaster and uncertainty. "My feeling is that life marches on," she says. "Life has to go on."


  Businesses across the country are still reeling from the calamitous and tragic events of last week. But talking about the events and sharing feelings are important to the healing process. Business owners and employees need to do everything possible to keep morale high, according to Roger Herman, a certified management consultant and founder of The Herman Group in Greensboro, N.C. He offers these suggestions for effective leadership in the stressful days and weeks ahead:

-- Schedule a staff meeting to discuss the impact of the events and the need to unite and endure.

-- Offer employees time off with pay to volunteer.

-- Make arrangements to support the families of any employees who are called to duty in the National Guard or military reserves.

-- Offer your employees the opportunity to join you in making a donation to a charity. Make your donation in the company's name and allow your employees to help you decide the amount and the recipient of the funds.

-- Give employees opportunities to express their feelings at work.

-- As soon as possible, try to return to normalcy, or something close to it.

Succeeding in Small Business(©) is a syndicated column by Jane Applegate, author and founder of, a Web site offering free multimedia resources for business owners. For a free copy of her new workbook, The Business Owner's Check Up, e-mail your address to:, or mail it to: Check Up, P.O. Box 768, Pelham, N.Y. 10803.

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