As floodwaters mostly receded from the Gills Creek watershed in Columbia Wednesday, some business owners returned to survey the damage.
What they found – spoiled merchandise, ruined infrastructure and damage that could cost thousands to repair – was as troubling as it looked bizarre. But some said they were simply grateful to have safely weathered a storm that has left 17 dead in South Carolina – including nine in Richland County.
The Gills Creek watershed is a 70-mile network of normally placid streams, lakes and dams stretching from just near the Village at Sandhill shopping center in northeast Richland County to southeastern Columbia and into the Congaree River.
The gauge height for Gills Creek spiked to at least 15 feet above normal between Saturday and Sunday, according to U.S. Geological Survey data. That sent several feet of water into some businesses on Forest Drive.
Frank Schiano, who owns Schiano’s Fast Casual Italian restaurant on Forest Drive, said he watched from across the street Sunday as his business filled with floodwater. When Schiano returned to his restaurant after the water receded, he found thick gray mud coating the floor and other remains from the flooding.
Tree branches and pine straw, along with the mud, adorned the railings of the restaurant’s outdoor deck, and a line of black grime on the building’s exterior showed just how high – about 4 feet – the floodwaters rose above the floor. The portion of Forest Drive in front of Schiano’s restaurant was still closed Wednesday as officials assessed the nearby bridge above Gills Greek. Next door, damage crews were working at Coplon’s, a women’s clothing store.
I’ve put a lot of heart and soul into accumulating what I thought was a top-of-the-line South Carolina collection, but it’s all gone
Lee Burton, owner of Battery Street Book Company
A few hundred yards away, two businesses that share a building near the corner of Trenholm Road and Forest Drive were reeling. Lee Burton, who owns the Battery Street Book Company, said about 98 percent of his books “pretty much turned to mush” when flooding overtook the building.
Burton stood, three ruined books in his hand, in the middle of the building Wednesday as roughly a dozen volunteers from First Presbyterian Church in Columbia helped throw out waste, carting ruined items out of the store in wheelbarrows and making sure not to slip in the dark, slimy grime on the floor.
Burton said his store specialized in rare books from across the state, and he estimated his collection was worth about $300,000. Burton said it took four or five years of traveling around the state to build the collection, which included biographies and books about South Carolina history, culture and Native Americans. He said he doesn’t know if he will try to replace it.
“I’ve put a lot of heart and soul into accumulating what I thought was a top-of-the-line South Carolina collection, but it’s all gone,” Burton said, adding that he did not have flood insurance. “One way or another, we’ll move on.”
Kay Stafford, whose custom framing business, Webb Rawls Gallery, was also in the building, said the volunteers were from her church. She said most of her materials were destroyed in the flood and that it would have to be cleaned out before she could think about starting up the business again.
My faith is that God is in control, and I trust the Lord to open a new door, and we’ll get back in business
Kay Stafford, owner of Webb Rawls Gallery
Other businesses along the Gills Creek watershed also were damaged this week. At Rosewood Crossing at Devine Street and Fort Jackson Boulevard, Wylie Pearce was scheduled to open the doors on his new salon in three weeks.
“Our store had 7 feet of water throughout it,” Pearce said of his Sola Salon. “I knew it was really bad when we saw the pictures. I knew it was going to be really really bad but it was just absolutely breathtaking what happened. You walked through and your heart just sunk a little.”
Pearce had just walked through the salon Saturday to inspect the custom cabinets that had just been installed.
“It was immaculate and I was so proud and happy,” Pearce said. “But the cabinets are all gone now. We’re hoping we can salvage some of the metal ceiling tiles and some of the countertops and sinks and hopefully the salon doors, but those brand-new custom cabinets are gone.”
Other businesses that had already opened in the shopping center—Michaels, Marshalls and PetSmart—also sustained significant flooding and water damage.
The good news, Pearce said, is that the center already plans to make a comeback.
I know we’ll get back and we’ll do it together
Wylie Pearce, owner of Sola Salon
“The landlord is amazing and is already sending people in to cut the sheetrock out and clean up the floors so we’re headed in the right direction,” Pearce said. “I know we’ll get back and we’ll do it together but just to see this happen anywhere and then to see it here in Columbia is something you just never think you would see. It’s going to be an arduous battle but we are going to battle through it.”