Hurricane Irma left residents and business owners in northern Hillsborough, east Pasco and central Pasco assessing damage, cleaning up the mess, and, calculating their losses and counting their blessings.
For business owners, the focus was on reopening and getting Pasco County’s commercial back in motion.
The effort goes on.
Zephyrhills’ chamber gave shelter
With shelters filled to capacity, The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce on Fifth Avenue opened its doors for three families to weather Hurricane Irma.
“They did well in our building,” said Melanie Monson, the chamber’s executive director.
Someone even managed to get some video footage of the storm.
In the aftermath, Monson and chamber staff pitched in to help people in need — including clearing debris and cutting up trees.
“Anything we can do to get people’s lives back, we did,” she said.
Zephyrhills’ businesses generally were luckier, and appeared to suffer less damage than other parts of the county. A few roofs were coming off, and a lot of trees were felled.
Duke Energy estimated that the Zephyrhills area, including its businesses, would have power restored by Sept. 15. Withlacoochee Electric said it might take longer for some of its customers.
The chamber cancelled all events the week of the storm, including its Citizens of the Month awards to area students.
“We’re going to double up for October, and do double the number of students,” Monson said.
Ukulele’s playing its tune again
Bryant Brand, owner of Ukulele Brand’s, reopened the waterside restaurant in Land O’ Lakes on Sept. 12 at 3 p.m. The restaurant lost power for more than 12 hours.
Some food had to be tossed out, but Brand said the restaurant withstood the battering winds. A floating dock still floated, but dipped about a foot-and-a-half underwater.
Brand said he would wait to see if the water drained away, and what kind of damage was done.
Within 30 minutes of the restaurant’s opening, cars began filling the parking lot, and hurricane-weary residents headed for the outdoor tables or the cooler bar inside.
It was business as usual.
The Shops at Wiregrass pitches in to help
Hurricanes have threatened in the past, but Hurricane Irma delivered.
“It was definitely a learning experience for everyone,” said Greg Lenners, general manager at The Shops at Wiregrass.
With Irma waffling on her direction, Lenners said the decision to close the mall came on Sept. 9, when it appeared obvious the hurricane had west Florida, and Pasco County, in her sights.
Something unexpected happened.
Some residents decided to leave their cars in the mall’s garage for safe keeping.
“Parking in the garage caught us by surprise, but we allowed them to park there to be a good neighbor,” Lenners said.
The mall came through without damage, and mall officials hoped to reopen on the afternoon of Sept. 11. Out of caution, the opening was delayed until Sept. 12, though a few restaurants opened doors sooner.
Yamato’s Japanese Steakhouse and Pincher’s seafood shack on Sept. 11 had long lines of residents eager to put Irma behind them with a hot meal and a cool place to hang out.
“I think we were all stir crazy, and had no power,” Lenners said.
Irma’s timing couldn’t have been worse. She came during a weekend, when shops and restaurants normally look forward to crowds.
“It certainly was a blow,” Lenners said, but noted it was too early to tell the precise impacts.
There already is some rebound, in part, due to schools closing for the week, he noted.
“You did have a lot of families off work because their businesses didn’t have power,” he said. “We’ve started seeing an uptick in traffic on Tuesday (Sept. 12).”
The mall planned to partner with 99.5 QYK radio station on Sept. 15 for a Help Our Community Heal event. The radio station was scheduled to hand out free water and batteries, and provide charging stations for people needing help. Donations also were being collected to aid about 700 linemen who have been restoring power.
Drive-through here and there
Motorists wrapped their cars around McDonald’s at Connerton on Tuesday morning, eager to grab bags full of breakfast foods and hot coffee from the drive-through lane.
Area restaurants that were able to open immediately after Hurricane Irma activated drive-through windows, with limited menus.
Kentucky Fried Chicken on State Road 54 in Land O’ Lakes also was among the fast-food chains with lines of cars quickly surrounding the restaurant.
Tampa Premium Outlets is shopper ready
Tampa Premium Outlets reported no problems arising from Hurricane Irma. As of Sept. 12, stores began opening and the outlet mall “is open for business as usual,” said Sarah Rasheid, in a written statement. Rasheid is director of marketing and business development.
“We recognize the devastation our communities are experiencing by Hurricane Irma’s arrival in Florida,” Rasheid said in her statement. “It is heartbreaking when events like these occur, and our thoughts and prayers are with all the families throughout the state.”
Home improvement stores fill needs, before and after
Home improvement stores, like Home Depot and Lowe’s, were slammed with customers frantic to buy plywood to board up their homes, generators to keep refrigerators running and flashlights to light the dark.
Now that Irma is history, shopping is getting back to normal.
But, there also have been plenty of residents needing cleanup supplies.
Lowe’s, on State Road 54, east of U.S. 41, sent in a small team of employees to get the store ready for its reopening on Sept. 12.
The store shut down about lunchtime on Sept. 9, before Irma struck.
“I’d love to see power returned to the whole area,” said Michael Armstrong, Lowe’s store manager.
Since reopening, Armstrong has seen a mix of customers. Buying is happening across all categories, he added.
People are filling carts with flowers, patio cushions and usual needs of a home. But, he said others are on the hunt for cleaning supplies, rakes, yard clippers and tarps for their roofs.
Those still without power also wanted flashlights, he said.
In the midst of providing area residents with their hurricane needs, Lowe’s, as a company, also had to consider its own employees.
Armstrong said employees had to think of their own safety and their families. Their decisions reflected the dilemmas everyone had. And, he said some opted to evacuate; others stayed.
“We keep a list of associates,” he said. “As soon as the hurricane was over, we started calling everyone. At 9 a.m., yesterday, (Sept. 12) we reached the last one. It’s not just about coming to work. It’s ‘we want to check on you. See how you’re doing’.”
As of Wednesday, Lowe’s was on track for a normal business day.
Dade City ready to rebound
Dade City’s downtown businesses took a hit during Hurricane Irma. But, with power restored, they began opening doors around mid-week to shoppers and diners.
For two days after Irma passed, downtown seemed “very quiet,” said John Moors, executive director of The Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce.
“I haven’t heard of anything looking major, except for cosmetic stuff and trees down,” he said.
Revenue losses are to be expected, however.
“There’s definitely concern over the whole week,” Moors said. “The major thing is people were safe. It’s just a lot of work to get cleared up.”
It’s early yet, but Moors said some merchants might want to explore hosting a special event to help businesses rebound from Irma.
Published September 20, 2017