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Behind the Scenes at a Small Business: Lessons From Sandy

(Editor's note: This is the ninth installment in our "Winning the Card Game" series. Dana Norman and Michele Rothberg acquired discount greeting card store Card$mart in June 2011. They agreed to let TheStreet follow them for one year as they experience the ups and downs of running a business. Based on advice from their accountant, the owners have declined to share revenue and profit figures.)

PLAINVIEW, N.Y. ( TheStreet) -- "I almost wished we lost power. Opening up was painful," Card$mart co-owner Dana Norman tells TheStreet two weeks after Hurricane Sandy forced her way through New York City, New Jersey, Long Island and parts of Connecticut on Oct. 29, leaving widespread damage, flooding and power outages.

The independent card shop is located in an upscale shopping center in the middle of Long Island, so it was far enough from the dangerous storm surges that slammed the southern coast of the island. And, luckily, Card$mart is in one of the few areas that did not lose power in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy and the Nor'easter that hit 10 days later. Most residents and commercial businesses, even if they had no damage from the category 1 hurricane, were without power for several days or weeks.

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The lack of power took a toll on sales at the end of the month and into November. Norman and Rothman closed the store early the day of the storm and kept it shuttered the day after. Both were dealing with power outages at their homes.

Card$mart also lost its phone service and Internet for the first few days. But Norman says customers, for the most part, didn't seem to have a problem paying in cash.

Still, few people were out buying cards in the first week after the storm. "One day we opened up and the register closed with $40 in sales," mainly from its Lotto business, Norman says.

"We don't sell, nor are we looking to sell, flashlights and batteries. But I feel like the store became more a therapy session for our regular customers. We had heat, we charged customers' phones while they shopped elsewhere in the shopping center or had breakfast," Norman says. "We're not going to change the model of our business. We just had to suck it up."

Card$mart licenses its name from Designer Greetings , which is also the vendor of the "50% off" line of cards the store sells. Yet the partners are not franchisees -- they do not pay franchise fees or royalties to Designer Greetings. Norman and Rothberg are required to carry the Designer Greetings 50%-off card line, but can also sell other items and cards of their choice. Designer Greetings has declined to disclose how many independent retailers license the Card$mart name.

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