As Hurricane Harvey dissipates, retailers in its wake are ready to regroup, survey the damage and chart a path forward.
Susan Murff, co-owner of Cypress Hardware and Feed in Houston, considers herself fortunate. Her store suffered minor roof leaks but did not experience the flooding that has gripped Houston and other nearby Texas towns since Harvey made landfall on Aug. 25.
“It was a crazy amount of rain, but we’ve done very well. We never lost power, but houses as close as two blocks behind us are totally underwater,” Murff says.
Murff says her operation never closed during the storm, but did take special precautions to help distribute emergency supplies to shoppers before Hurricane Harvey struck.
“We haven’t closed. We’ve spent the night here since Tuesday, but for a few days we only had a limited opening because we had limited staff,” she says. “We had customers wait outside, and we only let a few people in at a time so the staff could walk them through the store to get what they needed. We only allowed people to buy animal supplies and emergency hurricane supplies. We had to focus on the people who were in need.”
Murff says communicating with customers was critical as the floodwaters rose across Houston and the surrounding area. She regularly updated her operation’s Facebook page with reminders that the store was open and what emergency storm products were currently in stock.
“The cleanup supplies are the hardest to keep in stock. We just got another truck in, and we’re already running out of gloves, trash bags and bleach. We cannot keep these items in stock,” she says.
“Before the storm hit, every time we got batteries, gas cans or lanterns, we sold out,” Murff says. “A lot of our vendors had to shut down, but Ace corporate was there for us 24/7, and they made sure they got trucks to us. It was amazing what they have done to make sure we got product for our customers.”
Murff says her operation tried to assist individuals whose homes were flooded and also first responders who stopped by.
“Anytime a police officer comes into the store, we give them a case of water to put in their car. So not only do they have it for themselves, they have the water for anybody they’re helping,” Murff says.
Along with social media, word of mouth among people affected by the floods has driven customers to seek out Cypress Hardware and Feed to search for necessary supplies.
“I think a lot of people watched the news and saw that we were going to get rain, but thought, ‘Surely that’s not right, surely we’re not going to get that much.’ But when it happens and they realize they don’t have enough supplies to get through, and they learn that we are actually open, they’ll come in and just hug us and cry. And we cry with them,” Murff says. “We’re all exhausted, but we’re glad to help.”
Murff says her husband Bill and her son Jason have spent several nights at the store, sleeping on cots and receiving deliveries throughout the night. The operation has drawn from previous experience with hurricanes to help safeguard their store and teach homeowners how to best protect their dwellings.
“After Hurricane Rita, we installed generators that automatically take over and run the store. We also learned with floodwaters that you don’t need sandbags, a bag of topsoil will do the same thing. Now, when customers come in panicked because they need sandbags and we couldn’t get anymore, we tell them that topsoil works just as well.”
The operation had a large supply of topsoil already in stock and sold through that quickly as floodwaters rose and customers took their advice. They ordered an additional 18-wheeler of topsoil the day before Harvey struck.
By the middle of the week, Murff and her team were turning their attention from helping customers prepare for the floods to helping them salvage their homes and belongings. As citizens left shelters and were able to return to survey their homes, Murff expected many of them to need safety gear and cleaning supplies to remove wet carpet and sheet rock and to sanitize their homes.
Four of the operation’s employees had water in their homes, and one had to be rescued by boat. But for employees whose homes were not affected, returning to work to help their community was the only choice.
“There wasn’t even a phone call. They knew we were open and they wanted to be here to help, too,” Murff says.
Ace corporate flew several employees to the area. They were able to visit grocery stores in the San Antonio area and deliver food and supplies to the Cypress Hardware and Feed team as Houston-area supermarkets were either flooded or depleted of food.
“When I saw them walk in with that food, I just fell apart. Our employees are doing everything they can to help the community, and I’m trying to feed them, but I was running out of options myself,” she says.
As Harvey moves out of the area, Murff says she will forever be proud of her employees and her community in the face of historic flooding.
“Texas is really showing its true colors. Anyone who wasn’t flooded or in need is out there helping and volunteering without ever being asked. We’ve got this, we’re going to get through this and be even stronger,” Murff says.
The New York Times reports at least 42 people have died following Harvey’s downpour. Hurricane Harvey brought five days of rain and resulted in some parts of Texas receiving 52 inches of precipitation, the newspaper reports. Approximately 156,000 dwellings in Harris County alone have been flooded, which is nearly 10 percent of all structures in the county database. Information from the Texas Department of Public Safety shows at least 6,800 homes have been destroyed.
Harvey is the first Category 4 hurricane to make landfall in the U.S. since Hurricane Charley struck in 2005, according to Planalytics, a weather analytics company. The company’s early estimates indicate Harvey’s damage could top $15 billion and result in nearly $1 billion of lost retail sales.