When Tropical Storm Irene hit on August 27, Jeff Borhek, owner of the general store and gas station in the scenic New England town of Weston, Vt, had not had a vacation in the six years since he bought the property. His only day off: every year at Christmas. “He is married to his business, too,” says his wife Heather.
The storm dumped three feet of water in the Weston Marketplace, causing it to become one of the 90 percent of businesses most often affected by a disaster: those with less than ten employees.
Jeff was forced to close the store and even take some time off. “We actually spent some time together as a family,” says Heather.
But much of the couple’s time was spent trying not to become another statistic: the estimated 25 percent of businesses that never reopen after a disaster. Their ability to rebuild and reopen would depend on the community spirit of small-town Vermont, along with a little help from FEMA and the state.
Many in the town of some 800 were just as upset as Jeff and Heather about the store’s damage. After a disaster hits a community, one of the worst parts of the aftermath is losing the landmarks that become part of one’s routine. “The joke in town is that more deals get done in our coffee area than anywhere,” says Heather. “We had customers who come here twice a day.”
One of their regulars was a contractor who offered to extend his services on credit. “He said, ‘Where else am I going to get my coffee in the morning?’” says Heather. Jeff had flood insurance, but he didn’t yet have the cash in hand to pay for repairs. And with the busy fall tourist season approaching, he and Heather couldn’t afford to wait. They were already set to lose about $25,000 in gross income over four weeks of no business and, according to Jeff, the store often brought in the most amount of income in the last two weeks in October than any other time of year.
Their house, which is next to the store, also was flooded, and with FEMA rental assistance the couple temporarily moved into a home nearby (one normally rented to vacationers). For the next five weeks, they set about gutting the walls of their store and replacing the floor.
It was with great joy that on one crisp autumn day, October 4, the Weston Marketplace was open for business. Jeff stood behind the register, an energetic impresario, chatting with his customers as if they were long-lost family members.
“How’s your daughter doing? Feeling better?” he asked one.
“We’ll be getting those cookies you like in tomorrow,” he told another.
“What did you do for Bud Lights while we were closed?” he asked an elderly gentleman with a plaid jacket. “I was worried you wouldn’t make it without them?”
The gentleman smiled and happily handed over his $10 bill.
“Had to go over to Londonderry. But glad you’re back in business.”
The couple is still staying in their temporary home as they finish putting sheetrock back on the walls in their bedroom. They have also applied for disaster unemployment insurance to help replace ...