By Diana Matthews
Already 39 county businesses have received $500 apiece as hurricane recovery grants from the Columbus Chamber of Commerce and Tourism. Jennifer Holcomb, chamber president, was in Lake Waccamaw yesterday morning delivering a check to Dale’s Seafood, and she has traveled the county handing out awards all week.
“Our application criteria were very broad,” Holcomb said. Recipients had to be small businesses with physical damage from Hurricane Florence.
The chamber hopes that by infusing “a little bit of capital,” they can help provide struggling businesses with needed momentum “to reopen and keep on employing people.
“A lot more would qualify,” Holcomb said. She hopes the chamber can provide a second round of grants. “That will depend on funding.”
Contributions to the chamber’s recovery fund are tax-deductible. Holcomb said money has arrived in large and small amounts; one Burlington business with connections to the county sent $200. “That was cool,” she said.
Downtown Whiteville business owners visited by The News Reporter said they will apply the chamber’s grants to floors, walls, computer equipment, furniture, extra labor and lost inventory.
Many of them have already invested large amounts of money, which was not in their budgets, to repair damage. All have put in hard work to reopen. And all expressed gratitude for the $500 grants.
For Furniture Depot, the money is going to be “a help,” said Bobby Pratt Thursday. “I think we’re blessed to get it.” Owner Darian Ransom will apply the money to ongoing restocking and repair projects, Pratt explained. “It will buy a lot of paint. I admire what the chamber’s done.”
Dyrell Hill of Auto Parts Express, on the corner of West Main and Franklin streets, said the money would go toward replacing inventory that was destroyed.
At Polished Hair and Nail Salon, stylist Tiffany Nealey said there were damages to the stylists’ workstations as well as to the recordkeeping computer equipment. She thought the owner, Jack Yates, and manager, Cheryl Noble, planned floor improvements as well. “There’s a long list of things” that need to be done, she said.
Nealey and the other stylists worked together during the immediate cleanup stage to get the shop open again, but “We were out of work for two weeks,” she said. “It’s hard being self-employed.”
At Hewett Glass, office manager Gina Ward looks forward to replacing ruined office furniture. The company was closed for a week and a half, then lost additional days of business due to lingering phone problems that kept customers from being able to call in.
Hewett employees cut out and treated the building’s soaked interior walls. “We got that horrendous smell out,” Ward said, and now, “I desperately want a new desk. I can’t tell you how much we appreciate the grant.”
Earl and Diane Stewart are owners of Ed’s Grill on South Madison Street. They plan to replace cracked floor tiles in one dining area and sand and refinish the wooden floor in the other room. As a licensed contractor, Earl Stewart knows how to get the maximum improvement value out of the grant money.
“It’ll help, and I’m thankful,” Diane Stewart agreed.
Wanda’s School of Dance and Gymnastics has been in its location on East Main Street for 31 years; the building flooded for the first time during Hurricane Florence.
Wanda Thorne’s biggest concern was her custom-built, multi-layer cushioned dance floor, which would be expensive to replace if water rotted it.
Before reopening, she and her husband spent a week of long days removing carpets, scraping up glue, replacing baseboards and painting throughout the building.
Thorne is still not sure that her dance floor is completely out of danger.
The grant money will help to recover some of the supplies the couple bought and two workers they hired. “It will definitely help,” the Thornes agreed. “We’re really grateful.”
Robin Long, owner of The Cutting Edge on Madison Street, missed two weeks of work, during half of which she was unable to travel from her Robeson County home to Whiteville due to road restrictions. “If Teresa (Jacobs, fellow hairdresser) hadn’t been able to come in here and clean up, we’d have been in worse shape,” Long said. The shop was among Whiteville’s first three downtown businesses to reopen. Still, Long found herself short of ready cash for replacing destroyed furniture. She will use her recovery award to provide new seating for her waiting area. “I’m very thankful for the grant program,” said Long.
Hearing that yet another downtown business, Sunshine Cleaners, will soon reopen, Long said that people would be excited over the news. “We may not be a big metropolis, but when a business is closed down for a while, people miss it.”
The chamber continues to accept donations for the grant program through a link on its website, thecolumbuschamber.com, and by mail or in person at 601 S. Madison St., Whiteville, NC 28472.