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Colo. Flooding Challenges Small Business Owners In Lyons

Oct 3, 2013
Originally published on October 3, 2013 12:53 pm



Amid the partial government shutdown, the Small Business Administration will continue only a few programs, including disaster relief loans. That's good news in Colorado, where nearly a thousand businesses were damaged or destroyed by recent flooding. Many more could see sales go down.

Grace Hood of member station KUNC traveled to the small town Lyons to understand the full scope of challenges facing small businesses.

GRACE HOOD, BYLINE: Life is far from normal in this town of 2,000. Most residents haven't returned home yet because power, sewer and water lines broke during the floods. Some homes and businesses were untouched by water. Others here in Lyons, like the 20-acre festival grounds of Planet Bluegrass, are hardly recognizable.

CRAIG FERGUSON: A lot of these places, it's just - there's a bunch of sand on top of otherwise fine grass.

HOOD: That's Festival director Craig Ferguson. He's standing on top of dirt and sand deposited by the floodwaters. Bulldozers drive by a ravaged building and an overturned car waiting for removal. Ferguson says he hasn't figured out how exactly he'll pay for his rebuilding costs.

FERGUSON: We know we're going to do it, and we're just going to have to figure out how we'll pay for it as we go on down the road a little bit.

HOOD: Town leaders estimate it could take months before residents can move back to this funky artistic community. That's fine for Ferguson, whose prime season starts next summer. Meanwhile, at Neil Sullivan's deli, the St. Vrain Market, time is of the essence.

NEIL SULLIVAN: The initial thought was: Wow, we have a stack of invoices here.

HOOD: Sullivan stands in front of barren shelves and an unfilled deli case. He donated tens of thousands of dollars of food to residents affected by the floods. In addition to replenishing his stock, he also needs to repair damaged equipment. He's applied for a low-interest loan with the U.S. Small Business Administration. But he's worried about when he'll see customers again.

SULLIVAN: I think for businesses that are really struggling right now, to take on more debt at this point is going to be a real challenge.

MAYOR JULIE VAN DOMELEN: It is agonizing to watch all of them be closed at once.

HOOD: Lyons Mayor Julie Van Damelen estimates about 170 businesses here are hobbled. She says the city is prioritizing businesses in its recovery plan. The town launched a small business recovery fund, and it turned on electricity first in a corridor where many shops are located. But the future is very much uncharted territory.

DOMELEN: There are no chain stores here. Unfortunately, that means the pockets are not so deep. And corporate can't bail you out for a few months in Lyons. They're bailing themselves out by family savings and credit cards, probably.

HOOD: Taking on more debt is something Lisa Ruoff, owner of The Gear Spot, decided against. She's shuttering her outdoor equipment consignment shop after opening its doors less than one year ago. She says she didn't have physical flood damage, but couldn't afford to coast for several months without customers. Ruoff's concerned that she could be the first of many businesses to go under.

LISA RUOFF: Unless they have a lot of money to back them up, I can't see how anyone can keep going this way.


HOOD: Down the street at Spirit Hound Distillers, dehumidifiers hum next to massive stainless steel equipment that's useless without water and sewer lines. This business is also in its first year. It saw substantial building damage and has no customers passing through its tasting room right now. But distiller and co-founder Craig Engelhorn is hopeful.

CRAIG ENGELHORN: I want to be standing here with my - like, with my thumb on the on button so that when the town says you can use the sewer, boom. We're going to start producing.

HOOD: In a place where sales tax plays a major role in town coffers, Lyons has a lot of hard work ahead. Right now, it doesn't matter how businesses get back to work. The important part is that they plan on returning at all.

For NPR News, I'm Grace Hood. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.