The Journal Gazette
Thursday, September 07, 2017 1:00 am

Attempting to reopen for business

As waters recede, small-shop owners weigh their options

PAUL WISEMAN and BRIAN MELLEY | Associated Press

HOUSTON – Bobby Jucker has had it with hurricanes.

In 2008, Hurricane Ike tore the roof off his business, Three Brothers Bakery. Now, he estimates, he's facing $1 million in damage and lost revenue from Harvey – the fifth time a storm has put his bakery out of commission.

He's always recovered. But this time, he wears the weary countenance of a man nearly broken.

“This is the last time for me,” he says. “It's emotionally draining. I just can't do it anymore.”

More than a week after Harvey poured more than 4 feet of rain on Houston, killing at least 65 people, destroying thousands of cars and leaving hundreds of thousands of families with flood-damaged homes, America's fourth-largest city is striving to reopen for business.

Houston's airports and shipping lanes reopened to limited traffic last week. Some workers returned to their offices last Thursday or Friday. More followed Tuesday after a long Labor Day weekend of cleanup and regrouping.

With floodwaters receded, some parts of the sprawling metropolitan area look virtually untouched. Yet in other places – the leafy bedroom community of Kingwood or the Meyerland neighborhood – piles of debris sit above street curbs, industrial-size dumpsters dot shopping-center parking lots and the air is thick with the odor of mold and decay.

“I'm encouraging people to get up and let's get going,” Mayor Sylvester Turner said over the weekend. “Most of the city is dry. And I'm saying to people, if you can open, let's open up and let's get started.”

Many big businesses will likely recover relatively quickly. But small companies will struggle to replace moldy carpets and damaged equipment, to reconnect with suppliers, to meet payroll and to draw back customers, many of whom are nursing financial injuries of their own – swamped cars, flooded basements, leaky roofs.

Some companies are still too overwhelmed to resume business, which means their employees remain idle and unpaid.

“The big boxes and big chains can absorb hits like this; small businesses can't,” says Craig Fugate, who served as administrator of the Federal Emergency Management Agency in the Obama administration. “Some will make the decision not to reopen. Others won't be able to.”

FEMA estimates that nearly 40 percent of small businesses never reopen after a disaster.

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