Three hundred and seventy seven days have passed since Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf coast of Texas, inundating the Houston metropolitan area with a catastrophic amount of rainwater, displacing more than 30,000 people and inflicting $125 billion in property damage.
In summarizing those long, eventful days, florist Wallace Bennett calls to mind Charles Dickens’ most famous line: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”
“I’m so glad it’s over,” said the owner of VaVaBloom, which had one of its two locations completely destroyed. “I would never want to relive that period; however, in the months since the storm, our business has never been better. The hurricane was a blessing in disguise.”
This time last year, Bennett finally could enter his shop in Kingwood, a northeastern suburb of Houston, after an agonizing week sitting at home and imagining the destruction.
The building had incurred nearly five feet of water, ruining VaVaBloom’s entire inventory and all its equipment. “Our two coolers literally floated down the street,” Bennett said. “There was sludge everywhere.”
It took a solid month to remove all the debris. Throughout the cleanup process, neighboring retailers and restaurateurs banded together.
“Altogether, about 100 businesses in Kingwood were affected, many of them right around us because we were located in a popular shopping center,” Bennett said. “It was tough work, but it could have been so much harder if we hadn’t helped each other out.”
The Kingwood shop was closed for nearly four months, while Bennett worked with his landlord and Houston bureaucrats to obtain the necessary permits for reconstruction. For the duration, the entire staff worked out of the Cleveland shop, 25 miles to the north.
“Fortunately, we had no turnover, though people had to adapt to different jobs from time to time,” Bennett said. “Designers were sometimes sales people or delivery drivers.”
Having the second location helped immensely, by allowing VaVaBloom to keep its event business going strong.
“The fall is definitely wedding season in Houston,” Bennett said. “It would have been very painful to lose that business. Instead, we got much-needed income while we rebuilt.”
The Kingwood shop reopened on December 1 in a new space across the street with nearly double the square footage. To celebrate the comeback, VaVaBloom held a cocktail party called “Come Hell or High Wine,” which had “a tremendous turnout,” Bennett said. Leading up to the relaunch, he posted updates on the shop’s social media pages, but he credits his neighbors with really fanning the message.
“Someone started a Facebook page that updated Kingwood residents on businesses that had been impacted by Harvey and how they were doing,” Bennett said. “And there was major word of mouth communication throughout the community. Multiple news outlets heard about us through the grapevine and asked to cover our story, which made even more people interested in us.”
Sales for the past nine months have been “way up,” Bennett said. “People are deliberately choosing to shop with local businesses that were hurt by Harvey. We’re so grateful for their support.”
Twenty miles due west of Houston’s city center, Scent & Violet didn’t endure any physical damage from Hurricane Harvey, but the economic impact has been steep.
“Our primary delivery area was flooded,” said managing partner Amra Kolasinac. “We closed shop from August 24 through September 5. Some roads around us were closed for more than a month.”
Flooding hit Kolasinac’s corporate clients particularly hard. “Some of our standing orders were paused three months post Harvey,” she said. Faced with crippling hurricane-related expenses, some businesses eliminated their flower budget altogether, while many “severely cut back.”
“The upside of the storm is that it’s revealed that we live among some pretty great people who truly care for each other’s wellbeing,” she said. “I personally see a lot of cooperation between small businesses in the area. We talk more, share advice and patronize each other’s businesses.”
Have a story to share about your experience with hurricanes Harvey or Irma? We want to hear it. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Look for more coverage of how floral industry members have recovered from recent storms in future issues of SAF’s Floral Management magazine.
Katie Hendrick Vincent is the senior contributing editor for the Society of American Florists.