Staunton businesses affected by August flood rise above devastation
By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press
STAUNTON — A summer night in early August brought too much rain in too brief of an amount of time.
The night of Aug. 8 will never be forgotten by downtown business owners and the Staunton community.
“It’s been a challenging year for us in many ways, not only the flood,” said Byers Street Bistro’s Director of Operations Giovanni Cannata. “But we’ve really been taken aback by the community support.”
The damage at the Bistro was so extensive, the possibility of the restaurant not reopening was real.
“The damage started from the inside. We flooded from the inside out,” Cannata said.
The Bistro, which opened in 1999 at 18 Byers Street, was especially exposed by being in Staunton’s Wharf near Lewis Creek’s waters.
Cannata said that 5.5 to 6-feet of water flooded the restaurant, and only two areas were left undamaged. The bar top downstairs and the guest mugs on the beams were untouched.
“It brought so much water that it actually burst our patio doors off the hinges. There was no stopping it,” Cannata said.
Cannata said that the next day community members were lined up to help clean up the Bistro.
Everything on the first floor had to come up down to the floorboards to restore the restaurant.
“We were very fortunate that our kitchen was located on our second floor,” Cannata said.
As 2021 begins, Cannata said the Bistro is “maintaining.”
After closing March 18 because of the COVID-19 pandemic and remaining closed until the third week in June to keep guests and team members safe, Cannata said the Bistro reopened to find that its supply chain was also affected by the pandemic.
However, the summer brought warm temperatures and good business for the Bistro’s patio.
“And, then the flood came, and, obviously, the pandemic has taken a stronger foothold,” Cannata said.
Carry-out is a small portion of the Bistro’s business, but the restaurant is “trying to focus on carry out” in order to stay in business.
“This is our town,” Cannata, who has been with the Bistro since it opened, said of Staunton.
He said no other industry is being held to the standards that restaurants are during the pandemic.
“We’re thankful that we’re able to get through.”
But keeping the restaurant’s team members safe is important.
The Bistro did good business all of the month of December, according to Cannata, but the first week of January has been different.
“It’s been a little bit challenging,” he said.
As 2021 begins, Cannata said the Bistro wants to be ready for when the pandemic is over, to continue to provide the best for customers.
“We’re really positive and focused on doing the right thing,” Cannata said.
According to RefillRenew’s owner, Mandy Drumheller, the store, which sells environmentally-friendly products, recovered quickly from the August flood with only a few thousand dollars in lost merchandise and damage.
Drumheller said her store’s damages were “much less than most of our neighbors.”
“We consider ourselves very lucky and fortunate,” Drumheller said. “Looking forward we have implemented some changes just in case flooding occurs again.”
The store, at 110 Baldwin Street, now has an automatic electric sump pump to remove water, higher shelving for storage of merchandise, and “a plan of action to further flood proof the store if there is more warning next time.”
In September, EccoHollow Art & Sound at 315 North Central Avenue celebrated five years in Staunton.
The guitar and amp repair shop, plus record shop and recording studio, was renovated and reopened the day before flood waters ravaged downtown Staunton.
“If you’re feeling really unloved — have a disaster and see how many of your friends show up,” said EccoHollow owner Wavley Groves.
The day after the flood, Groves said “it was heartwarming” to see the Staunton community pull together. Volunteers, including local musicians, were at EccoHollow ready to help clean up and rebuild.
Groves said that business owners never heard from the city about the cause of the flooding. They only heard that four inches of rain in two hours created flash flooding that night.
Staunton Downtown Development Association was helpful, he said, as well as Staunton’s department of public works.
“We had to gut the whole building and rebuild,” Groves said of the damage at EccoHollow. More than three feet of water was in the front of the building, and four feet in the back.
All merchandise, including a couple hundred brand new records that had just been delivered, was destroyed.
Groves said the retail and repair section of his store is back in business, but he is unsure when the recording studio will be ready for business.
Insurance would not pay for the flood damage, Groves said, because it appeared the door was open to the store when flood waters entered. Groves said the door was closed, and what appeared to be someone’s small deck that had held an HVAC unit smashed through his store’s front door and was found on top of guitars.
Groves said his landlord said a couple of inches of flooding had occurred downtown before “but never anything like this” in the 40 years he has owned the building Groves’ store is in.
Now working seven days a week in the store running the record shop, Groves said business is “pretty good” five months after the devastating flood.
But he is prepared for a next time with sandbags, a flood shield and storing recording studio equipment higher up on shelves.
He expects the store to bounce back.
“I think we’re going to be better than ever,” Groves said.