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Oklahoma tornadoes: For Moore businesses, rebuilding will be more than structural

While many Moore businesses will be working to repair the brick-and-mortar part of the store, bringing customers back after the storm takes work, too.
by Jennifer Palmer Modified: May 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm •  Published: May 22, 2013

— Stepping out of the safe deposit vault on Monday afternoon, Jan Davis, branch manager for Tinker Federal Credit Union, saw absolute devastation.

Davis, 13 other staff members and eight customers closed themselves inside the vault while a massive tornado plowed through Moore.

When they emerged, there wasn't much left of the bank building at 400 SW 6, near the Warren Theatre. Stepping over shards of glass and splintered wood, Davis said she could smell gasoline and saw downed power lines.

“It was devastating. It still is. It's surreal,” she said.

Those inside were uninjured, thanks to the effective disaster plan they followed that afternoon, Davis said. And credit union members' data and valuables have been secured, bank officials said.

For some businesses, such as the Tinker Federal Credit Union branch, the damage from Monday's tornado is structural.

But others have the brick-and-mortar intact yet still will face challenges rebuilding a customer base in a community devastated by disaster.

Jim Lee, who owns Riverwalk Wine & Spirits at Riverwalk Drive and SW 19, couldn't open his store Tuesday, despite having no damage to the building. His immediate challenge was street access — and he had no idea when the roads would reopen.

Though Lee says he's thankful the store wasn't touched by the tornado, and his family and workers are unharmed, he worries about the financial hit he'll take in the coming months.

It's a situation he's been through before, as owner of a different liquor store, Greenway Plaza Liquors, in 1999. The May 3 tornado that year also spared his business but destroyed the surrounding area.

He said he reopened after the storm, but sales dropped from $2,000 a day to $200 a day, an amount that didn't even cover his operating expenses. He was unable to receive aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or his insurance, he said.

“All you can do is hope you're able to survive. That's what we did last time: scraped our pennies. Business came back eventually,” he said.

First things first

Moore Chamber of Commerce Chairman Brad Little, who also owns HeyDey Entertainment, said area business owners are focused on immediate needs: cleaning up debris, restoring power and making sure their families and employees' families are safe.

Customers, too, are concerned with necessities and won't be spending like they were before.

“It takes a while for the economic engine to start back up again,” Little said.

The chamber was closed Tuesday because the building had no electricity. Once it reopens, officials will be able to provide resources to business owners, such as connecting them with reputable companies to make repairs.

The Joplin (Mo.) Area Chamber of Commerce reached out to Moore right after the storm to offer support. Little said once the city's rebuilding is underway, the Moore chamber plans to invite the Joplin chamber to visit and speak with the business community.

“This is not going to be over next week. It'll move off the national headlines, but for people that call Moore home, we'll be doing this for a while,” he said.

by Jennifer Palmer
Investigative Reporter
Jennifer Palmer joined The Oklahoman staff in 2008 and, after five years on the business desk, is now digging deeper through investigative work. She's been recognized with awards in public service reporting and personal column writing. Prior to...
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