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Wide range of businesses have been directly, indirectly affected by Katrina

Far from storm’s landfall, metro businesses still see impact

Jackson — John Evans, owner of Lemuria Bookstore in Banner Hall, said that hurricane weather had been pretty good for business in the past few years. Evacuees from the Coast came up to spend a few days in a hotel, see some sights and do some early Christmas shopping.

Not this year, he said.

“We basically lost Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. Thursday, we were here reorganizing and basically didn’t do any business,” he said. “And today everyone is pretty gas-conscious.”

While much of the focus of Hurricane Katrina’s effects on the business community remains on the losses to the casinos, tourism and big industry, the storm’s effect rippled all across Central Mississippi’s small business community, as well — often in unexpected ways.

Gene Allegrezza, manager of the newest Cups-An Espresso Café franchise in Brandon, never expected the store’s September 2 grand opening to be postponed —especially by weather. But Rankin County suffered the highest power outage percentage of any of the metro-area communities, with many businesses losing power until Thursday afternoon.

“We’ve got power right now, and we opened Thursday morning, and we’ve just been hobbling along,” said Allegrezza. “A lot of our employees are hurting — they’re out of power and they’re having trouble with gas to get here.”

Cups had finalized its advertising for the event Thursday, with ads appearing Monday before Katrina made landfall. Now, Allegrezza says the store lost about two-thirds of its food inventory when the power failed, and although the coolers are still not working properly now that power is restored, they can’t get anyone to come out to repair them.

“We’ve lost a lot; we’re not up to full capacity. We were steadily building up to that grand opening,” Allegrezza said.

Scott Rye, executive vice president for Sullivan St. Clair Marketing and Public Relations, said that while Mobile-based Shoe Station was doing what could be done to protect its Shoe Station stores in coastal cities in Alabama, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi, it didn’t occur to him until Tuesday morning when damage reports began coming in that the storm would affect the opening of the company’s Flowood store, scheduled for Labor Day weekend.

Shoe Station officials decided to move the event to September 9, the following Thursday. “I think everyone was concentrating on the Gulf Coast, but we never imagined it would be so strong when it got to Jackson,” said Rye, whose company handles media for Shoe Station. “We had to call all the media and change all the promotions.”

In contrast to the inconvenience of the power outages that plagued the Jackson-area stores, the Shoe Station in Biloxi was destroyed.

“Our store in Biloxi’s Edgewater Mall is a total loss, but we anticipate opening a new Shoe Station in the Biloxi area as soon as it makes sense to do so,” said Shoe Station president and CEO Terry Barkin. “In the meanwhile, the first priority must be to the victims of this unprecedented natural disaster.”

Store openings weren’t the only special events disrupted by Hurricane Katrina.

Evans had to postpone a highly anticipated booksigning due to multiple factors stemming from Katrina’s impact. The event, featuring U.S. Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) signing his political memoir, “Herding Cats,” had to be postponed from its original August 31 date. Although the store is continuing to sell signed advance copies, a new date has not yet been scheduled, Evans said.

Evans remembers slowly realizing how the storm could impact his event if it didn’t weaken before it made landfall. “On Monday, I took the attitude that I would just wait and see what happened.”

On Monday night, he started thinking a little differently.

“If it was a bad storm in South Mississippi, it would not be a particularly politically-correct thing for him to do,” said Evans. He finally learned of Sen. Lott’s property loss on the Coast by reading the paper Wednesday morning.

The storm’s long-term impact on Evans’ business is not so clear.

“On Tuesday, I began to think I need to restructure my cash flow, inventory, my personnel, to keep from digging a deeper hole in September and possibly October,” he said.

But each business is coping with the realities of its situation in its own way. Evans is hoping that the impact on the rest of the year won’t be as negative as it looks right now, and he looks to past Christmas seasons for reassurance.

“My best Christmas was after 9/11,” said Evans, noting that people didn’t travel for the holidays that year and spent more money in town for gifts.

Meanwhile, Allegrezza is serving customers who come by for coffee and air-conditioning while waiting on repairs to their damaged coolers.

“We just got sidetracked, that’s all,” Allegrezza said. “I’m a little discouraged right now but looking ahead.”

Contact MBJ contributing writer at Julie Whitehead at mbj@msbusiness.com.

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