Many Lebanon Square merchants are faced with their second shutdown in as many years following recent flooding in the city’s downtown area.
“It’s just a lot of hard work. It’s a lot of time and hard work. We were shut down a week last time (in 2020), and I don’t see that happening this time,” said Angela Hamby of Charlie’s Shoe & Boot Repair.
Most businesses on the Square closed for at least a day following the heavy rainfall on March 27-28 that brought as much as 32 inches of floodwater to some areas on and around the Square.
Tori Brewington, who runs the Butter Churn antiques and collectibles store with her mother, Denise, said the family was unaware of the damage until Sunday morning when a neighbor called and asked about the store.
“I went by the store on my way to church, and by that point the water had dropped and drained back out some. It was still 2 feet deep from front to back,” Brewington said. “We were kind of in shock and didn’t know where to start.”
“Back in 2010 (after a heavy flood), luckily, they put concrete in here, so we didn’t have any floor damage. Our issue was mainly just the cleanup from the nastiness of the water because it was mud everywhere.”
Harper’s Book owner James Kamer said the store would likely be closed “a few weeks” following the flood. He said a few thousand dollars’ worth of inventory was damaged and flooring and shelving must be replaced.
“We got hit hard. Of course, just the sheer nature of being a bookstore, books don’t fare well with water,” Kamer said.
Kamer has set up a GoFundMe to help with recovery for the bookstore, Harper’s Books Flood Recovery.
The insurance hurdle
Insurance coverage has also caused heartburn to some Square merchants, with some forced to recover without much, if any, help from insurance.
Kamer said he had water damage insurance for the bookstore, which does not cover flood damage.
“I got zero. I got nothing from insurance. Coming off 2020, which was a rough year anyways, it was a kick in the teeth to hear that,” Kamer said.
“I paid mine (insurance premium), but it was late, it doesn’t take effect until next week. We’ve had it for 25 years. It got lost in the mail, and so it was late,” Hamby said.
Hamby said because the payment was late it takes 30 days to take effect, meaning coverage would begin about a week into April.
“It’s so expensive it’s ridiculous,” said Hamby, who said about $200,000 in coverage would result in about $2,000 in premiums. “The flood insurance is so expensive. That’s why so many don’t have it.”
CJ Hutsenpiller, of Hutsenpiller Insurance, said property and business owners of the Lebanon Square face higher insurance costs due to many reasons.
“It’s all based off the elevation of the property and the flood zone that the property is in,” said Hutsenpiller, who said properties are categorized into X, A and AE flood zones, with AE areas being high-risk for flooding.
“Obviously, insurance companies price it based on where you sit. The entire Square, for instance, is all AE flood zone. All of that area is high-risk,” Hutsenpiller said.
“When you got a property that’s been damaged by flood before, it jacks the rate way up. So, because those properties are consistent offenders, the carriers aren’t super wild about that.”
Hutsenpiller said for homeowners, an understanding of what defines a flood and the type of coverage could make a big difference following a flood.
“In order for you to have coverage for a loss from water, such as a flood, you have to have a flood policy. As far as that goes, they can get coverage for the building or the contents within the building, and you can do that as a tenant of the building or owner,” he said.
He noted homeowner’s insurance does not cover flood damage.
“In order for something to be considered a flood, it has to affect two or more acres of normally dry land or two or more properties,” Hutsenpiller said.
“Even if they have flood insurance, it might not be covered. I’d say always go over your policy with a local insurance agent.”
Hutsenpiller said all Wilson County residents should review their properties and accompanying insurance coverage.
“A common thing I hear people say is they don’t have flood insurance because they’re ‘not in a flood zone,’ and that’s inaccurate. Everywhere in Wilson County is in a flood zone of some kind. The severity of the zone determines whether or not they were required to have flood insurance.”
Although recovery could take weeks or months for some merchants, feelings of optimism remain on the Square.
“It’s been a rollercoaster not knowing when we would be able to open or when our neighbors would be able to open. It’s just been horrible for the whole Square, but we’re resilient,” Poppie’s Boutique owner Sarah Collins said. “I think we’re going to bounce back and be better than ever.”