100 days af­ter flood, ‘new nor­mal’ for El­li­cott City busi­nesses

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Fa­timah Waseem

Mo­jan Bagha, who sells hand­made rugs from around the world, knows the risk of do­ing busi­ness in his­toric El­li­cott City.

Flood­ing is part of the his­tory of the 244-year-old town.

The July 30 flash flood that dumped 6 inches of rain in two hours did not de­ter Bagha from re­open­ing his store, Main Street Ori­en­tal Rugs, this past weekend.

“The phoenix rises from the ashes,” said Bagha, who em­i­grated from Iran in 1977. “A busi­ness owner takes risks. I wouldn’t be a busi­ness owner oth­er­wise.”

One hun­dred days af­ter the flood that killed two peo­ple and caused mil­lions of dol­lars in dam­age, Main Street busi­ness still face a long re­turn to nor­malcy as the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son opens.

Fewer than half of the busi­nesses on Main Street have re­opened since the county lifted a state of emer­gency a month ago.

“We are lack­ing the crit­i­cal mass that will make El­li­cott City work,” said Tom Coale, vice pres­i­dent of the El­li­cott City Part­ner­ship.

The non­profit is dis­tribut­ing some $1.3 mil­lion in do­na­tions re­ceived from the United Way and other sources since the flood.

“Things are mov­ing into a new nor­mal,” said Coale. “Un­til we get that crit­i­cal mass, it’ll be hard to see where we are go­ing.”

Some busi­nesses on the town’s high ground re­opened in early Oc­to­ber. Oth­ers in the lower area of the dis­trict are not re­turn­ing to their orig­i­nal lo­ca­tions be­cause there are fi­nan­cial con­straints or uncertain timeta­bles.

Joan Eve, owner of an an­tiques store on the lower end of town that re­mains largely boarded up, has no es­ti­mate when her store might be ready to re­open. But she re­mains op­ti­mistic.

“I’m anx­ious to come back,” Eve said. “Main Street is where I be­long.”

The Ca­plan build­ing, the for­mer de­part­ment store that housed the cloth­ing bou- tique Sweet El­iz­a­beth Jane, re­mains va­cant. It will likely open around March, but the bou­tique is mov­ing to an­other lo­ca­tion on Main Street.

Don Reuwer Jr. is pres­i­dent of Waverly Real Es­tate Group, which owns sev­eral build­ings on Main Street. He said he is con­fi­dent the town will come back “stronger than ever.”

Build­ings that have been ren­o­vated are now bet­ter pro­tected against floods, he said. Some of those were “in dire need of re­pair.”

The va­cancy rate on Main Street in 2014 was 10 per­cent, and lower in the years be­fore, ac­cord­ing to the Howard County Eco­nomic De­vel­op­ment Au­thor­ity.

Busi­ness and prop­erty own­ers are look­ing to state and county of­fi­cials to make im­prove­ments in the dis­trict. Since the flood, the county has be­gun $3.8 mil­lion in flood man­age­ment projects. In Septem­ber, Pres­i­dent Barack Obama ap­proved fed­eral dis­as­ter aid for El­li­cott City.

The county is con­duct­ing a hy­drol­ogy and drainage anal­y­sis and a case study of the area’s streams, and county of­fi­cials say the Army Corps of En­gi­neers is work­ing on rec­om­men­da­tions on how to flood-proof build­ings.

Some in the com­mer­cial dis­trict say the flood could trig­ger changes in clien­tele, busi­nesses and the char­ac­ter of the town.

“Old shop own­ers are giv­ing way to a new gen­er­a­tion, and that gen­er­a­tion is tar­get­ing their peers,” Reuwer said. “Peo­ple who would’ve hung on have de­cided it’s time for the next gen­er­a­tion to take over.

“If you were think­ing about re­tir­ing, the flood made that de­ci­sion for you.”

“We are go­ing through a mas­sive re­boot. The va­can­cies give us a lit­tle bit of pause,” said Nicholas John­son, owner of Su Casa, a Main Street fur­ni­ture store that opened about a month ago.

Yet John­son hopes the char­ac­ter of the dis­trict won’t change too much.

“There’s a cer­tain type of busi­ness that’s at­tracted to El­li­cott City,” he said. “They are smaller and owner-op­er­ated. That will stay the same.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.