Kokomo Tribune; Kokomo, Indiana

November 20, 2013

Picking up the pieces

As many as 30 businesses may have been destroyed by tornado

By Martin Slagter
Kokomo Tribune

— As her business on East Lincoln Road was about to crumble, all Solstice Art Gallery owner Marci May could think about was how she could save the lives of the nine children and seven adults in the building.

May, who has owned the business for six years, was hosting a birthday party for a young girl as a tornado swept through Kokomo Sunday, leveling the gallery as she escorted members of the party into the bathroom to safety.

A steel beam prevented bricks from caving in on the bathroom, leaving May and the others safe when her business fell to the ground.

“We were having a birthday party for a little girl,” May said. “We actually ended up in the bathroom with about nine kids and seven adults and just barely made it. They had just gone to shut the door and as soon as they did that, the whole back wall came tumbling in and the roof came peeling off.”

May and other business owners in the Fairway Plaza, and throughout Kokomo, are trying to move forward following Sunday’s tornado that left as many as 30 businesses destroyed and many more with structural damage.

May’s father, Dan, and her husband, Eric, work at May Law Office next door. They have been organizing a plan for a new temporary location on South Reed Road. Marci May said she plans to be moved into the new location at 2906 S. Reed Road by the weekend to host a Christmas party.

“Our Christmas calendar is full of private parties coming up,” she said. “That’s why we needed to find a place fast so that we could hold those parties.

“We’re just thankful that all of those kids are OK,” she added. “It wasn’t our home, it’s just our business. We can find a new location.”

After more than 30 years on East Lincoln Road, Dan May said he is confident his law office will continue to operate in another location. Others in the Fairway Plaza, which May owns, might not be so lucky.

“It’s all cinder blocks,” he said. “The lives are more important. I feel sorry for the tenants who are losing their livelihood. I’m not sure if they’re going to be able to relocate as quickly as I can.”

Businesses throughout the city are dealing with everything from being completely leveled to replacing roofs and windows after Sunday’s storm. Others are simply waiting for the power to return before opening back up.

The Greater Kokomo Economic Development Alliance has provided four area businesses with spaces to relocate in the days following the tornado. CEO Chris Hamm said he’s setting them up in Inventrek, 700 E. Firmin St..

“We’re trying to provide resources for buildings that are on the ground,” he said. “We want to be whatever resource we can for them and the one thing we can offer is space they can claim as a home base as they go through the recovery process.”

Mid-Central Trophy is working to secure a location by the first of the year after the back of its building at 422 Arnold Court was completely wiped out, damaging much of the business’ equipment.

Co-owners Toni Weideman and Linda White are now looking at relocating permanently their business that creates everything from plaques and trophies to engravable jackets and hats after 16 years at their current location.

“That’s what makes me the most emotional — the help,” White said. “We have customers coming by to check on us. Our landlord has been very gracious in trying to help us any way that he can. Between that and the police department coming in and helping, it’s been awesome.”

BMO Harris Bank on Washington Street was reduced to rubble following the tornado. Across the street, Sun City Tan is awaiting assessment on damage done to its building before deciding whether to continue operation.

Sun City Tan manager Pam Bennett said until the business receives consultation from an engineer on the extent of the damage, business is at a standstill.

“It’s going to be a while before we can reopen,” she said. “We have no roof and the front of the building has been blown out. Part of (BMO Harris) Bank is in our building.”

Employees at Sun City Tan, which has been in business for nine years, have swept out debris from the parking lot in the meantime, but cleanup has been reduced to a “minimal standstill” until the damage can be assessed, Bennett said.

Liberty Financial Group on East Hoffer Street already has relocated temporarily after the tornado took the roof off its structure and blew out the doors and windows of the building.

Co-owner Craig Dunn said the business has relocated to the old Elks Lodge at 104 W. Sycamore St., where they already are taking calls from clients.

Dunn said the roof might be fixed on the building today, and he hopes to return to his former location on Nov. 27.

“This is a case where we’re going full speed ahead,” he said. “The first thing we can do is take care of our clients and function as normally as possible. We’re starting to see clients down here (on Sycamore Street), which is not a cushy environment. It’s functional, not comfortable.”

Off U.S. 31, Erik’s Chevrolet suffered extensive damage, including a significant amount of glass blown out of the showroom window and debris.

Over the past two days, employees have been working to get everything cleaned up, with power expected to return today. Scott Perkins of Perkins Contracting arrived Sunday to provide Erik’s with structural assistance.

The showroom and body shop are expected to be fully-functioning by Thursday, associate Karen Bellus said.

“When we got here on Sunday it was a disaster and it appeared to be totally destroyed,” Bellus said. “Scott Perkins and our employees have been cleaning everything up. We’re still working on picking up debris and some of the automotive keys were blown out into the lot and are still being recovered.”

A structural engineer is expected today, Bellus said, and a corporate team of insurance adjustors is being flown in to inspect damage done to every vehicle. After assessments are made, Erik’s will have a better idea of the financial extent of the damage.

While the Markland Mall didn’t suffer any structural damage from the tornado, marketing director Mary Martin said many of the businesses continue to await the arrival of power, particularly on the east half of the mall. Only Beauty Buzz was open for business on Tuesday, while businesses like Starbucks, Chilis and the entire plaza of the mall were without power.

All of the stores on the west side of the mall, including Target, Sears and Carson’s are open for business, Martin noted. The mall has been working closely with Duke Energy to have power completely restored and is hoping to be up and running today.