Just two days before hundreds of people turned out for a fundraiser to help him reopen his Hurricane Sandy-damaged business, Swingbellys owner Sean Sullivan sat patiently at an April Zoning Board meeting, hoping to hear news he had been waiting months for. He could not afford to rebuild his popular barbecue joint, he said, unless the board granted him a variance to expand his bar area in order to accommodate more patrons.
Swingbellys, at 909 W. Beech St., opened nearly six years ago, but was destroyed in the storm, costing Sullivan what he described as a small fortune.
Like the owners of many other businesses, Sullivan did not have flood insurance. The community rallied to help Swingbellys and other businesses through fundraisers and initiatives like Project Pay It Forward, a collaborative effort aimed at getting storm-ravaged businesses back on their feet.
Sullivan, a Long Beach resident, held a number of barbecues for West End residents who struggled after the storm, and continues to give back through Pay It Forward. And he is credited with playing a large role in saving Thanksgiving in Long Beach, when Swingbellys served meals to approximately 2,000 residents who were displaced or dealing with damaged homes.
“Since the storm, I have yet to meet anyone else as dedicated to bettering our community as the owners of Swingbellys, and we cannot afford to lose them as a business in town,” said Billy Kupferman, a founder of Pay It Forward.
Still, Sullivan’s decision to move forward with rebuilding Swingbellys seemed to hinge on a Zoning Board decision.
“If they’re going to survive, they have to be able to expand that bar area to accommodate more people,” Sullivan’s attorney, Sean Schaefer, told the board. “The financial stability of the restaurant requires them to reopen by Memorial Day — if they don’t know the direction they’re going to take now, while they’re in the rebuilding process, they’ll lose hundreds of thousands of dollars and they will not make it through the winter.