HATTIESBURG — In keeping with the traditional Mississippi never-say-die attitude, many Hattiesburg area business owners affected by the Feb. 10 tornado are getting back on their feet — and back in business.
Employees at Carlstedt’s Florist had to work out of refrigerated trucks after the EF4 tornado tore off the back of the building. The store continued operations that way for about two weeks until owner Paul Barton decided it was time to find a new facility.
After looking for a new location, Barton found a temporary site in the former Anderson Paint building. Barton said relocating to the new building was a fairly painless process.
“It was an easy transition,” he said. “I made a decision on a Tuesday that I wanted to look for a building. We found the building that Wednesday, made a phone call, and had a lease by Friday.”
It hasn’t all been a bed of roses for the wholesale florist, however. Barton said he moved into the new location March 4, and it took a month to get phone and Internet services hooked up at the store — employees made the first call from the store’s landline April 4. Until then, all business transactions had been handled on employees’ personal cellphones.
The lack of amenities hasn’t slowed the employees down.
They’re still working out of refrigerated trucks, which will continue for about six months until Barton decides to rebuild the old shop or move to another location. But at least the employees have a roof over their heads, and Barton said business is booming.
“We really haven’t missed any sales,” he said. “The employees have handled this whole thing great, and as long as our customers know where we’re at and how to get in touch with us, we’re good.”
Ace Hardware in Petal was destroyed in the tornado, and efforts are underway to get a temporary location up and running. Store manager Kenneth Laird said he hopes to have the temporary site open by May 1, but that date isn’t set in stone.
“There’s nothing definite — there’s a lot that’s still got to happen,” he said. “But as long as things go like they’re supposed to, and (inventory) comes in like it’s supposed to, I’m thinking by May we’ll be ready.”
Laird said the owner plans to rebuild Ace Hardware at its original location on Main Street. If everything proceeds as planned, the new store will open in February, and Laird is optimistic business will be better than before.
“There’s been a lot of positive feedback about it on the Facebook page, and everybody I talk to says they just can’t wait for us to get back open,” he said. “I think it will be real good for us and good for the city as well.”
Several businesses in Village Green Shopping Center also were destroyed by the storm.
Designing Hair Salon — which was located in the center court at Village Green — has relocated. The move took about 2 1/2 weeks, and co-owner Mary Harvison said business is slowly getting back to normal.
“A lot of our customers have gotten in touch with us and found out where we’re at, so we’re doing good,” she said.
Harvison credits Martin Baker — who owns the space the business is renting — with helping her get the salon operational again.
“He helped us every way he could, and he was just great,” she said. “Had he not been here to help us, we probably still would not be open.”
Both of B.J. Barrett’s business locations — Fred’s Fire Extinguisher on Main Street and Mississippi Fire and Safety in Village Green Shopping Center — were destroyed by the tornado. To make matters worse, his Oak Grove home also had storm damage.
It took Barrett about a month to settle on his new site. Barrett said it was tough going at first, but he finally found a rental location that could accommodate his business needs.
“We had to find a place that offered both offices and a utility area, and when we found this, it worked out great,” he said. “It’s taken about another month to tailor these buildings out here to what it is that we do.”
Barrett said the Main Street building, which has been a Hattiesburg fixture for more than a century, will be demolished and cleared. For the time being, Barrett plans to stay with just one location, but he is considering expanding his business to the Mississippi Gulf Coast.
“It’s still kind of up in the air,” he said. “We signed a two-year lease here, and it would take us a while to get something new built anyway.
“I’ve got to be honest I don’t know what will be next in the pecking order — whether we go to the coast next or whether we build something new here next.”
If nothing else, Barrett has taken some positive experiences out of his losses. A lot of his old customers — and even people from out of state — have pitched in to help him with his recovery efforts. One of Barrett’s customers wrote an extra hundred dollars into his payment check, and some of Barrett’s vendors wrote off entire debts.
“The people have been great, and it’s been a very gratifying experience,” Barrett said. “I guess ‘heartwarming’ gets overused, but it really was. Great kindness has been shown, and we can’t believe how far-reaching it’s been.”
IHOP spokesman Craig Hoffman said the company plans to rebuild in its original location across from the University of Southern Mississippi.
Hoffman said the remodeling will start in about two weeks, and he expects the restaurant to reopen in about a month and a half.
“We’re hoping to be open in the next six weeks, barring any unforeseen difficulties,” he said.