Retailers feel Ernesto#8217;s sting

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 3, 2006

When city police closed flooding parts of North Main Street Friday as Tropical Storm Ernesto moved across Suffolk, not only were residents traveling in that area of town inconvenienced, but retail owners along the street were put in a quandary: stay open or shut down, make money or lose money?

For some, Ernesto answered the question for them.

The Supreme gas station, located on Main Street at the foot of the Kimberly Bridge, had a flooded parking lot, with water all too familiarly creeping toward the open doors.


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&uot;Water was about six inches away from the door,&uot; Manager Pam Russell said. &uot;It was basically a river. If you had a boat, you could have ridden from the grass straight to the river behind us.&uot;

The employees know of the damage storms can do. Marked on the wall behind the cash register is the height where Hurricane Isabel’s waters rose and flooded the store back in 2003, and another marker where Floyd filled the store in 1999.

For her part, Russell prepared the best she could by pulling all inventory from the bottom two shelves, unplugging her computer equipment, and waiting to see what the storm, and the water, would do.

Less than a mile up the road, the Suffolk Shopping Center had less water gathering, but the same elements to fight off. Store owners each made differing decisions on how to deal with Ernesto.

Belk Department Store managers made the difficult decision to close their store, despite Friday being the kickoff to a huge sale weekend.

&uot;We made the decision to close once we saw Main Street was closed,&uot; Store Manager Marissa Basla said. &uot;We didn’t want to put anyone’s life in danger with our sales associates traveling on side roads.&uot;

Echoing that sentiment, owners at Ann’s Hallmark decided to close the business for the morning hours, when the storm was forecast to be at it’s strongest, and open at 3:30 p.m.

&uot;We opened when the mall seemed busy again and more people ventured out,&uot; said Connie Adger, senior sales associate. &uot;(Owner Joan Michaud) wanted to make sure it was safe for her employees to come out.&uot;

While traveling was potentially treacherous, some business owners decided to bear the brunt of the storm themselves.

Karen for Kids Owner Karen Rogers, decided to come in and open her store herself.

The decision paid off.

&uot;I wasn’t affected at all,&uot; Rogers said. &uot;I opened at 10 (a.m.) and closed at 8 (p.m.) and had a normal day. I was relieved and felt blessed.&uot;

In fact, even the smallest of Rogers’ customers came to fight out the storm with her.

&uot;I have a charm class (for children ages 5-16),&uot; Rogers said. &uot;I had customers that called that day and said, ‘Are you still open?’ My appointments made it out, all but one. I was fortunate that I was able to open as normal.&uot;

Neither Supreme, Karen for Kids, nor Ann’s Hallmark incurred damages to the storefronts during the storm, Belk only suffered a minor leak in the store.

However, Ernesto still caused its share of financial havoc.

&uot;We weren’t able to open at all,&uot; Russell said. &uot;So, we lost a day of business.