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Irma caused pain for some businesses, profit for others
Chain saw, generator sales brisk, but restaurants see loss of inventory
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Chasten Parson adds a chainsaw to the display Friday afternoon at Howard's True Value Hardware in Oakwood as chainsaw sales soar due to damage from Tropical Storm Irma last week. - photo by Scott Rogers

While chain saws were flying off the shelves at Howard Brothers Oakwood Hardware, spoiled food was going in the trash at local restaurants.

Tropical Storm Irma was the culprit for many area businesses but an economic boom for others as it swept through the region Sept. 11.

Rain was heavy, but the main issue was the high winds, causing trees to fall on power lines and bringing about widespread outages — many lasting for days.

“We didn’t open Recess (Southern Gastro-Pub) for lunch on (Sept. 11) and I didn’t reopen until Tuesday of this week,” said Gainesville restaurateur Chris Richardson.

He also lost power at just-opened Novella’s Italian Restaurant & Bar and YellowFin. All three eateries are on the Gainesville square.

“The other restaurants were real busy,” Richardson said. “I could hear the cheering going on.”

He had added insurance a couple of days before opening Novella’s on Sept. 8.

After Irma struck, “I was informed by my agent that the insurance company had put a moratorium on new policies due to the hurricane coming, so I was not covered,” Richardson said. “So, the product loss and the revenue loss were not recouped there.

“That was painful.”

Corey Higgins had a much different tale to tell.

“It’s been hectic from day one, ever since the hurricane was even mentioned, off the coast,” said the location manager at Howard Brothers off Mundy Mill Road. “And as it was making its approach, the fear of the unexpected took over.

“The generator and chain saw sales alone were absolutely crazy. We had to get special orders.”

One snag for the store was both of its chain saw distributors are based in Orlando, Fla., or closer to the devastating storm that was Hurricane Irma.

“They were shut down, so their sales team actually rented Penske trucks and went to the warehouse, loaded up as much as they could and started driving north,” Higgins said.

Also registering big sales were local hotels. They filled up before Irma, largely with Florida evacuees, and stayed full until days after the storm.

Guests at the Hampton Inn & Suites in Flowery Branch may have been homesick, but they took their time leaving.

“They all seemed to know someone who stayed behind and they were waiting to confirm, No. 1, whether their house was still (standing), No.2, whether they had running water, and No. 3, whether they had electricity,” hotel sales director Jessica Miller said.

The hotel also struggled.

“We were without power for 30 hours,” Miller said.

Hotels “don’t have generators — that’s a (misconception),” she said. “The reason is they’re so expensive. You’re looking at about a $250,000 investment and all it’s going to do is power your lobby.”

Insurance companies also took a hit after the storm, having to write check after check for trees through roofs and other damage.

The day after Irma, or Sept. 12, “was really, really crazy for us,” said Trey Wood, partner and vice president at Turner, Wood, & Smith Insurance in Gainesville.

“While it was hectic for us, I tell people this is why you buy insurance,” he said.

Power outages made things worse, but “fortunately, our internet never went out,” he added.

However, insurance companies brace for stormy weather — and its sometimes heavy costs.

They “have models and predictions of weather patterns” that affect customers’ rates, Wood said.

Turner, Wood & Smith carries a wide range of insurance products.

As an agency, “we represent many carriers, so if one company says it needs to go up on a homeowners (policy) 20 percent, that’s where we requote (the rate) out for people to make sure they’re not getting overcharged,” Wood said.

One business sector that might appear to benefit from the storm — general construction — might struggle going forward.

“It’s going to impact the availability of construction crews and trades over many months, not just from Irma, but (Hurricane) Harvey,” said Tim Evans, vice president for economic development at the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

“And construction prices are going up, because of the limited number of specialty tradesmen. They’re just in high demand.”

That could translate to slowing homebuilding and business expansion.

Plus, “construction bids that businesses are getting are often coming with very short (term) price guarantees,” Evans said. “Sometimes, there are no guarantees. Prices may rise and contractors pass that risk onto the business.”

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