Coney handyman is a hero with a hammer, merchants say

Surfers hang together: Contractor Alberto Rodriguez assembled friends, family, and local residents to help Surf Avenue businesses clean out their damaged buildings.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Surf Avenue won’t remain a washed-up disaster zone for long — not if Alberto Rodriguez has anything to say about it.

The display builder from Surf Avenue’s Je T’aime Flower Studio and his trusty crew of furniture movers and demolition workers have taken it upon themselves to clean out water-damaged businesses along the amusement district’s main drag — free of cost.

“For me, the best part is to see people’s faces and the end of the day — to see people happy,” Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez had been creating intricate sets for Je T’aime flower arrangements for two months when Hurricane Sandy hit the People’s Playground. The day after the storm of the century passed, Rodriguez showed up at the florist shop and was astounded at what he saw: water had destroyed most of the store’s interior, and looters had come and picked off his tools.

Rodriguez quickly enlisted his brother and nephews to help him clean up the mess — but quickly realized Je T’aime wasn’t the only business in desperate need of help.

“People in the neighborhood started asking, ‘Hey, can you help us out too?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, sure.’” Rodriguez remembered. “We’re all one family here, one community.”

In the next few days, Rodriguez and his eight-man team — which now included several Coney Island residents — hauled saturated mattresses and water-stained shelves out of Lago as well as Home Decor down the block from Je T’aime. They also gutted the interior of the children’s party space Chill.

“We cleaned out Lago Furniture in seven hours, the girl there almost started crying,” said Rodriguez,

Word quickly spread and Rodriguez took on more and more jobs — going as far as Gambrinus Restaurant at the corner of Ocean Parkway and Brighton Beach Avenue to clean out of the basement and repair the eatery’s damaged plumbing and electrical work.

Despite the back-breaking work, Rodriguez was buoyed by the fact that he was helping neighborhood businesses dig out of the hole Sandy left them in.

“This is a disaster. We’re not looking for money, we need to get the neighborhood back together,” said Rodriguez. “Sandy didn’t bring us down. We’re going to come back.”

Reach reporter Will Bredderman at (718) 260–4507 or e-mail him at wbredderman@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/WillBredderman

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