MOORE — These may be the first signs of economic recovery. In red, white and blue, signs outside businesses have begun inviting the community back to the restaurants, shops and operations along the path of Monday's tornado that ravaged parts of Moore and south Oklahoma City.
In the days immediately after the storm, businesses dealt with debris cleanup, power outages and access difficulties from road closures or heavy traffic.
Those woes are starting to subside, and business owners who depend on customers to get their lives back on track want people to know: We are open.
Driving around town and seeing people cleaning and sweeping outside their businesses, Deidre Ebrey, economic development director for Moore, realized it wasn't clear what was open. She tapped Boss Print Design to print signs to give to businesses.
“We want them to open. Because that's the lifeblood of the city — retail sales tax. ... We need them badly,” she said.
Jenifer Halstead, who owns A New Beginning Florist in the damaged area of Telephone Road and SW 4, hung her own sign Friday, with the phrase “Will Rebuild” painted on plywood covering broken windows of her shop.
The storm badly damaged the building and destroyed her inventory of flowers and plants. Despite that, she has filled orders, including some for tornado victims' funerals, using a supplier's warehouse.
She said the decision to rebuild was easy. “I love my location and would 100 percent want to stay here, somewhere on this corner,” she said. “It's really a ‘new beginning' now.”
Two years into its own recovery, the business community in Joplin, Mo., feels a strong connection to Moore. Both were hit with an EF5 tornado. The dust had barely settled in Moore when Joplin set up a business recovery fund to help a city 225 miles away.
Kirstie Smith, Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, communications director, said the business community was eager to reciprocate the support it received after the May 22, 2011, tornado ravaged the city of 50,000, killing 161 people and destroying 7,500 homes and 550 businesses.
Joplin chamber President Rob O'Brian planned to visit Moore this weekend, bringing a check to help Moore start its own business recovery fund. A fund for businesses is essential because much of the focus of relief agencies is on residential rebuilding, Smith said.
“At the end of the day, if we don't rebuild the businesses, the residents won't thrive,” she added.
Of 550 Joplin businesses damaged, 500 reopened or are in the process. And the city has added 100 new businesses, from a major manufacturer to mom-and-pop shops and national franchises. Smith said companies saw the city's resilience and wanted to be a part of it.
Road to recovery
Moore is known for its thriving retail. The city has attracted big names, including Dick's Sporting Goods, Target and Warren Theatres, with sales tax incentives.
An estimated 2,100 businesses are within a one-mile path of Monday's tornado, the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber said.
A few businesses were destroyed: the Moore Medical Center, Tinker Federal Credit Union, AMF Moore Lanes bowling alley and a 7-Eleven. Tinker Federal Credit Union plans to rebuild the Moore branch in the same location; the hospital's future hasn't been determined.
But a much larger number will need minor repairs or none at all.
Initially, open businesses in the area will experience a boom of activity, attributed to the volunteers, emergency personnel and insurance agents and adjusters that flooded Moore after the storm, said economist Robert Hartwig, president of the Insurance Information Institute, who toured Moore this week. Stores that are open probably will do well for a month or two, but sales will fade as the help leaves and residents remain displaced.
For hardware stores, Lowe's or The Home Depot, sales will explode as construction increases, he said. But for a small business in a small neighborhood, it could take a while to build back up.
Business interruption coverage, which covers loss of income after a fire or catastrophe and is part of a business owner's insurance policy, can be critical for businesses to survive while the community rebuilds, Hartwig said. The U.S. Small Business Administration also offers economic injury disaster loans.
In Joplin, businesses had to overcome the impression many consumers had from news coverage: that the damage is so bad, the stores must be closed, Smith said. “Businesses really need to sing from the mountaintops: We're here and we're open for business,” she said.
Businesses depended on even small things people would do, such as stop for gasoline in Joplin rather than another city. People would say, ‘That's the only thing we could think of to help,'” she said. And it has.
“After two years, we feel really good about our progress, but we have a long way to go,” she said.