Thousands of small companies suffered enormous financial and emotional losses as a result of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center. 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 attacks.
On the Friday following the attacks, Jaigla's new, 350-square-foot flower cooler was filled with the berry branches, green hydrangea, casablanca lilies and orchids that were intended to be delivered to Windows on the World the morning of September 11. "It's kind of strange," said employee Dorian Butovich of the restaurant's undelivered flowers standing untouched in the cooler. "We walk around them. No one wants to move them."
Despite the numbing shock, sadness and the loss of a major client, life and business went on last week for Jaigla and her staff of six full-time and five part-time employees. While thousands of rescue and construction workers labored at what is now 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, Connecticut. "The minute I stop [working], I'm in mourning," said 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 said she was grateful to have the 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 survived the destruction, and that many restaurant workers also made it safely out of the building, Jaigla said she is consumed by sorrow for those whose lives were lost in the dramatic collapse. "My main concern is for the people who were in Windows on the World," said Jaigla. "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 said. "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 last week, Jaigla said keeping busy kept them sane. "If we didn't have [the events] this weekend, I don't know what we'd do."
Jaigla said supplying the daily flower order and flowers for special events at the now-demolished restaurant made up about one-third of her business. She's grateful for her other well-known clients, including the Lutece and Le Bernadin restaurants as well as a number of 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 October 24. She chose the location because it's only 10 minutes away from the site of the former World Trade Center. "I can laugh and cry about all this," said 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."
Amy Kopelan, CEO and owner of Bedlam Entertainment in Manhattan, was also severely affected by the horrible 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, originally scheduled for September 13, is a prestigious summit for women CEOs and senior managers. One hundred twenty-five participants, speakers and corporate sponsors from all around the United States were due to begin the conference with a private reception at the Four Seasons hotel on Wednesday evening.
As soon as she heard the news of the terrorist attacks, 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," said Kopelan, a former TV producer who is used to working under extreme pressure. "They all said they'd be here in January."
Kopelan said everyone she contacted that life-changing morning was "overwhelmingly supportive." "Everyone said, 'Whatever you need, we'll be there," said Kopelan. "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," said Kopelan. "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 tragic 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, North Carolina. 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.
Jane Applegate is a syndicated columnist and the author of201 Great Ideas for Your Small Business. For a free copy of her "Business Owner's Check Up," send your name and address to Check Up, P.O. Box 768, Pelham NY 10803 or e-mail it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Sarah Prior contributed to this article.