Kay Stafford lost her store twice last month.
She lost it first to the historic flood that dumped about 7 feet of water and cakes upon cakes of mud into her Webb Rawls Gallery frame shop on Trenholm Road in Forest Acres.
In the days afterward, dozens of volunteers worked “daylight to dark” to help Stafford clean up and try to get the business ready to reopen.
That’s when Stafford lost her store for the second time.
First Citizens Bank, which owns the building and property Webb Rawls sat on, decided to terminate the store’s lease given the significant damage to the building from the flood. Now, the family-owned business is operating out of a warehouse it owns on Blume Court, off Two Notch Road.
I think God shapes us with the disasters and the trials and tribulations.
Kay Stafford, owner of Webb Rawls Gallery
“There were times I thought, ‘Oh, lord, can I do this?’” Stafford said. “And I kept on going because I remembered how hard those (volunteers) had worked to try to help me get going, and I couldn’t let them down.”
Webb Rawls’ small-business neighbors in the Forest Lake shopping area, bordered by Trenholm Road and Forest Drive near where Eight Mile Branch and Gills Creek flow into one another, are recovering at different paces.
These local-character businesses, which have been community staples for years and even decades, have a special place in the heart of Forest Acres. But what will be their place be, moving forward after the flood?
The intersecting creeks remain swollen near parking lots they left caked in mud and littered with debris. A plot of muck, pocketed with shards of glass and chunks of brick, stands stagnant next to the boarded-up Four Paws Animal Clinic, where a sign directs customers to a temporary location on Devine Street.
Across the street, magenta-colored buds peek out of white brick flower beds that flank the boarded entrance to the Pavlovich Dance School. Red mud still clings to to a sign outside the school, which has temporarily relocated to a space at Richland Mall while its reconstruction process begins.
Forest Lake Fabrics, which sits nearby facing Forest Drive, lost some $1.5 million in inventory and fixtures when the flood ripped a hole the size of a three-car garage in its building. The business expects to rebuild in the same location, but that will take some time.
On the opposite side of the creek, Joseph McDougall’s Forest Lake Gardens got back on its feet quickly, selling McDougall’s signature selection of flowers, produce and novelty lawn items soon after the flood washed much of his inventory down Gills Creek.
First Citizens Bank, though, also is terminating McDougall’s lease at the end of the year, despite outcry from the community to keep the quirky community store in its place.
McDougall will be able to continue his business off Trenholm Road at least through Jan. 1, he said.
“I just really don’t know what direction this is going in,” he said. “I’m leaving everything open.”
‘Are you going to be here next year?’ ‘What’s the future?’ ... And I’m telling everybody, ‘I don’t know yet.’
Joseph McDougall, owner of Forest Lake Gardens
He could try to talk the bank into letting him stay. He could relocate the business to a property he owns on Two Notch. He could make a proposal to buy the site he rents now. Or he could scrap the nursery business altogether and start something new.
Right now, though, there is no concrete plan.
The questions from his customers are “constant,” he said. “‘Are you going to be here next year?’ ‘What’s the future?’ Well, I’m hoping. I’m praying,” he said. “All this stuff’s coming at me, and I’m telling everybody, ‘I don’t know yet.’”
Norio Saito is trying to figure out a plan of his own for his Sakura Japanese restaurant, which sits a little further down the hill from Forest Lake Gardens.
The 30-year-old restaurant shares a building with Coplon’s, which already has received a permit to rebuild its Forest Drive store, though the renovations won’t be completed by Christmas. In the meantime, Coplon’s has opened a temporary store nearby at Trenholm Plaza.
Saito, though, says its unlikely he’ll be given the OK to reopen at the Forest Lake shopping center.
The time has come for change. Everything changes.
Norio Saito, owner of Sakura
That’s a shame for loyal Sakura customers such as Columbia attorney Jay Bender, who frequented the restaurant with his wife over the years.
“I’ve eaten sushi in Japan, and this is comparable,” Bender said. “Their beer’s always cold, and their sushi is always fresh. What more could you ask for?”
Saito is looking into a few options for possibly reopening elsewhere, he said, but he’s partial to Forest Acres and the Forest Drive corridor. The prospect of moving makes him both sad and hopeful, he said.
“The time has come for change,” Saito said. “Everything changes.”
The flood displacement is opening up new opportunities for Webb Rawls, too, Stafford said.
Expecting a possible drop-off in walk-in customers after the move to a less-visible location, Stafford and her family, which help run the business, hope to pick up new business online, possibly offering a line of custom frames via Etsy and eBay.
Stafford also has the opportunity now to give back some of the love and help she received. She plans to donate a portion of Webb Rawls’ profits to flood relief efforts, she said.
And given the way the small business community members have leaned on one another over the past six weeks, she’d like to help organize some sort of coalition of small businesses to recognize and respond to one another’s needs any time, not just after a disaster.
“I think God shapes us with the disasters and the trials and tribulations,” Stafford said. “When God shuts one door, he opens another.”
Reach Ellis at (803) 771-8307.