Flood still causing struggles

January 27, 2009

By Chantelle Lusebrink

* Editor’s note: This story contains corrected information.

Owners of Gilman Square shops are asking for you to help keep them from closing and aid them in their recovery.

“Speaking for all of the tenants at Gilman Square, we need to let the entire community know who we are, what we are going through and that we are open for business,” said Patty Green, owner of Sisters Antiques. “We are all cash-flow businesses and without our wonderful customers, we cannot survive.”

The six businesses are Lombardi’s Neighborhood Italian Restaurant, Casual Dining Counterstools and Dinettes, West Coast Armory, Sisters Antiques, Leathers Home Furnishings & Accessories and Graybeard’s Gilman Antique Gallery. All are open except Lombardi’s.The Issaquah Chamber of Commerce, in conjunction with city officials and the business owners, hosted a tour of the property to view damage Jan. 20. City and chamber officials also unveiled plans to aid the businesses and asked for community support.

“We need to coalesce around these local vendors and help them in any way we can,” said Larry Ishmael, interim president of the chamber. “We want to make sure these businesses are able to continue, because they bring revenue into the city, tax dollars into the city and add to the vibrant economy that we have.”

Chamber officials have set up a donation account with Issaquah Community Bank to help cover immediate needs, such as employee salaries. The accounts will hopefully ward off immediate closures and help the businesses get by in already-trying economic times, Ishmael said.

City officials are helping business owners access flood damage assessment information, and navigate state and federal aid.

During the tour, business owners estimated that there was more than $600,000 in damage done to the six shops from flooding earlier this month. In some businesses, water rose to nearly two feet.

Damages could easily exceed early estimates once insurance appraisers and the property owners finally arrive and take an official accounting. All of the businesses experienced some product loss and damage.

But this isn’t the first time the property has flooded; the property last severely flooded in 1996, business owners said.

“This is the second major flood event we’ve had and nothing has changed,” said Mitch Setlow, owner of Leathers. “There has been no mitigation, no resolution to the problem.”

Correcting flooding on Issaquah Creek isn’t as hard as building the Alaska Pipeline or solving flooding near the Gulf, he said.

“This is a stream that overflows every few years for a few minutes, but it destroys businesses and costs millions of dollars,” he said.

At the most recent City Council meeting, Mayor Ava Frisinger said she has directed city officials to look into possible solutions.

In areas where severe flooding occurs, the city has purchased property or settled on terms to mitigate the creek.

Since 1994, city officials have purchased or dedicated nearly 100 acres of streamside property to preserve open space and prevent new development in the floodplain, according to information from the city’s Public Works Department.

Nineteen flood improvement projects along Issaquah Creek, Tibbetts Creek and the east fork of Issaquah Creek have been completed since 1995, Public Works records show. Those projects have cost city and other state agencies about $10 million. The most recent project was completed in 2007 and provided food mitigation for commercial buildings near Swedish Medical Center and Lake Sammamish State Park.

In addition to businesses in Gilman Square, Schuck’s Auto Supply and Kentucky Fried Chicken and Taco Bell also experienced varying degrees of damage. Schuck’s is currently closed while the fast food restaurant is open.

Schuck’s has been closed since the flood and several semi-trucks with inventory and supplies were in the parking lot Jan. 26. However, a team is at the store making repairs and stocking store shelves, an employee said. The store was expected to re-open Jan. 28.

Lombardi’s closed its doors for the month to make repairs. The closure will cost roughly $100,000 in revenue.

“This is the fourth flood in 20 years,” said owner Diane Symms. “They’ve mitigated the creek north of here, but here we sit.”

Symms said she expects to open her doors to the public Jan. 30*, with a new seasonal menu and a new section on its menu — Italian steaks and chops.

However, three of the businesses — Sisters Antiques, Casual Dining Counterstools and Dinettes,  and Graybeard’s Gilman Antique Gallery — don’t have flood insurance policies to help them make repairs as quickly as Lombardi’s.

Instead, those businesses are counting on support from government aid and agencies, like Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I have probably an $80,000 to $90,000 hole in my world,” said Lee Huffaker, owner of Casual Dining Counterstools and Dinettes. “We need people to support their local businesses. If any local businesses needed it, we need it now, especially with no flood insurance. We’re not looking for a handout. We just want to stay in business.”

City and chamber officials are also asking residents and other local businesses to donate whatever time or money they can to help aid with cleanup.

“We are moving forward,” Setlow said. “No one here is in victim mode. We’re open and we want to do business.”

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