The floodwaters that ravaged the Capital Region earlier this month didn’t discriminate. Everyone was affected.
Nowhere was this more apparent than in the retail and services sectors. Large shopping centers like Juban Crossing in Livingston Parish got as much as five feet of water. Target and Wal-Mart locations flooded, too, as did several supermarkets and countless strip centers that are home to locally owned mom-and-pop shops and restaurants.
The historic flood of 2016 was an equal opportunity disaster for businesses in the Capital Region, about 35% of which are located in flood-affected areas, according to initial estimates by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber.
But the recovery of the retail sector will be far from equal. Big box stores and national chains are able to weather storms. They’re able to get up and running within days or weeks of disaster.
Juban Crossing owner Steve Keller estimates he’ll have the shopping center back in business by the fall. His tenants like Bed Bath & Beyond have already gutted their flooded interiors. Rebuilding for national tenants is relatively easy.
“All these national tenants have suppliers and resources around the country,” Keller says. “So they just move things around.”
For smaller retailers it’s a lot harder. Many of them don’t have flood insurance, and even the ones that do are finding out the hard way that their business interruption insurance policy has a flood exclusion.
“We’ve been closed since the Friday it began raining (Aug. 12), and there’s no end in sight as to when we can reopen,” says Krista Peirce, owner of the The Royal Standard, which got nearly three feet of water in its location at 16016 Perkins Road. “We assumed, erroneously, that business interruption insurance would take care of us. It’s one of those things you don’t check on until it’s too late.”
Peirce, who owns the store with her husband, Mark, is luckier than most. The Royal Standard has four other locations and a thriving wholesale business, whose warehouse is located in Birmingham, Alabama. While she estimates flood damage to contents at her flagship store totals more than $500,000, the loss won’t put the company out of business because that store is just one piece of a larger enterprise.
At Outdoor Powerhouse in Denham Springs, the future is less certain. Casey Calmes’ Florida Avenue showroom took in between eight and 12 feet of water. His entire inventory of jet skis, ATVs and motorcycles was destroyed, a loss he puts at more than $1 million. His two buildings are totaled. He has insurance, but he doesn’t know yet how much of his losses will be covered. Whether he rebuilds the store that his father founded in 1977 will depend on what he is able to recoup.
“This is a $2.5 million building,” he says. “If insurance gives us just a quarter of that then we’re pretty much wiped out. It’s just going to depend (on what we get).”
In hard hit areas like parts of north Baton Rouge that were already struggling economically, the flood was particularly cruel. The family-owned Hi Nabor Supermarket on Winbourne Avenue is one of the few businesses that has stayed in north Baton Rouge since its founding more than 50 years ago, and its owners pride themselves on serving a needy community.
During the flood, the store took in more than two feet of water, destroying more than $200,000 worth of merchandise. To add insult to injury, looters broke the store’s plate glass windows and made off with cigarettes and liquor. Co-owner Jan Crifasi, whose father founded the chain, says they will rebuild with help from Associated Grocers and loans from the bank. But it won’t be easy.
“We’ll put it back together,” Crifasi says. “We gotta do what we gotta do.”
While many of the area’s smaller retailers will struggle to recover—and some won’t ever be able to reopen—other retailers are expected to benefit from the flood as recovery dollars flow to the area and people begin to rebuild.
In the initial wake of the disaster, spending was off across the metro area, according to local business owners, as area residents focused on cleaning up flooded homes and helping others do the same. But as the recovery begins in earnest, retailers that didn’t flood and are able to provide goods and services to those who did stand to gain.
“We are of the mind that this will be really bad in the short run,” says economist Loren Scott. “But ultimately it will involve a lot of spending in this area.”