Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a series of stories about businesses in Livingston Parish and their status.
DENHAM SPRINGS — A drive down Range Avenue in Denham Springs would normally provide consumers with access to stores and shops offering almost any product or service they could want or need.
But that was before the Great Flood of 2016. Now, the vast majority of the businesses are shuttered, closed since mid-August when their buildings flooded.
Probably as many as 80 percent of the business establishments on Range Avenue remain closed, but some business owners – some lucky, some industrious – have reopened and are serving customers.
The southern portion of Range Avenue near its intersection with Interstate 12 took on the highest levels of flood waters and almost all of the businesses in that area remain closed - the McDonald’s, the Burger King, two of the convenience stores and all of the shopping center at Range where it intersects Rushing Road are closed.
Only the pharmacy at Rite Aid is open, although there are signs of some businesses working to reopen. Representatives of the chain stores all along Range Avenue did not return phone calls made to their offices late last week.
The Super Stop convenience store was an exception to the rule in the area, as was the Waffle House restaurant. There was no one at the restaurant authorized to speak to the media but the son of the owner of the convenience store explained what they had to do to get open again.
“We put at least three weeks of hard work into it,” said Sam Alkilini Jr. Flood water in the store was several feet deep and it was three days after the flood began Aug. 12 before Alkilini, his father and employees could reach the store.
The store reopened almost three weeks ago and is open from 6 a.m. to midnight, now that the curfew has been lifted. The store’s Chevron gas pumps, though, remain inoperative, Alkilini said, while his father waits for a determination on whether they were infiltrated by flood water.
Not far from the store is Performance Tires, which was reopened just eight days after the flooding began.
“We took on four and a half to five feet of water in some places,” said owner and CEO Tim Whittingston. “The whole flood was definitely a tragedy, that’s for sure.”
“We gutted the place as soon as we were allowed to come back in, pressure washed and cleaned it,” he said, with the help of a crew of dedicated employees. “It was inspiring.”
Whittington said they were grilling and serving free hamburgers for the first few days after the shop reopened and were repairing tires that had picked up nails from the debris for at least a week after.
Businesses on the north end of Range, beginning at Florida Avenue, were less likely to have been affected by the flood. Some did not take on any water at all while others worked hard and quickly to recover from the damage done by the flood.
The Shoe Department, for example, was only closed while the water was up, said a member of management who asked to remain anonymous.
“We closed because none of our employees could get to the store, either because of the high water or because they were dealing with flooding at their own homes,” she said, adding the store was fortunate in regard to the Great Flood.
“We did not get any water in the store from the flood at all,” she said. “We opened back up on the 17th and we’ve been rolling since then.”
Bedding Plus, across the street from the shoe store and on the same higher elevation than the southern end of Range Avenue, also did not flood, said manager Louis Chevolleau.
“All of the businesses at this intersection (near Range and Florida) got no water because of how high this area is,” he said. “We got absolutely no water.”
There was water on the parking lot of the mattress store, Chevolleau said, enough for rescuers in boats to use it as a launch site. When he returned to check on the business when the water receded, he said there were three boats still sitting in his parking lot.
With so many people losing so much to floodwater, Bedding Plus has seen a surge in business, Chevelleau said.
“People are starting to get their money from FEMA and their insurance so business is picking up because of that,” he said. Chevelleau added that at the rate sales have been going so far this month, September’s sales will likely be four times higher than an average month.
Manager Chris Ferdinand at the AT&T Store said the business was flooded with about three feet of water in mid-August, but the company wasted no time getting the store cleaned and repaired and reopened Sept. 12, a month after the Great Flood demolished the city’s business district.
Discount Muffler owner Brian Walls, one of the industrious business owners along Range Avenue, said his business was flooded to just over four feet, “right at 50 inches,” he said, pointing at a water line at the back of the shop.
“We didn’t do so well,” Walls said, adding his sales room was hit hard and so was the shop, the floodwater destroying all of his inventory.
He said the flood left him with little alternative but to “buy new equipment and inventory then remodel and fix the shop” with the help of his crew.
“Business has been okay since we opened back up,” Walls said. “I didn’t think we would have as much business as we have but it’s been much better than I expected.”