Hurricane Irene buried my business, and the town under 12 feet of water. The sound seared into my memory of the day is a phone call from my employee working at the time. She got out one sentence. “We have to run!” The flood was so furious and came with so little warning, she had to jump into the back of a moving truck to get away from it. The doors left flung open, machines still on, it didn’t matter.
I was living and working in two different states at the time and I had gone home. Living by the coast I had anticipated the worst was to hit my hometown and I needed to be there to clean up the mess. Little did I know I had located my business in a flood plain. Location, location, location. I vaguely remember when I completed the paperwork for my start-up loan, they wouldn’t release the funds until I could prove I had flood insurance. Made no sense to me at the time. Located on top of a mountain I thought it was just another loophole put in place to discourage the capital poor borrower from following through. The problem was it wasn’t just one mountain, it was two. A quaint country street, between two ridges that used to house a river, now controlled by a dam.
The dam would breach that day, along with every bridge into and out of the area, every door of every home and storefront, burst open by an unrelenting wave.
I returned a week later, escorted in by the National Guard, a thoroughly unwelcome sight, only to find devastation. My neighbor, wandering the streets looking confused approached and said, “oh look, you have my stairs!” She couldn’t get into her house...the stairs to her front door were on my porch. Another man stood silently, staring down into the hole that held his car, and used to be my parking lot. I’ll be sued for sure, I thought...
It seems hyperbole now, but it’s not. And when we tell our grandchildren about the Pandemic of 2020, it will seem like an exaggeration too, something Grandma is grousing on about again.
I learned a lot about myself that day, and in the weeks that followed, about what I, my team, the business we had built, my family, and my town could endure. And I was, and still remain, grateful for it all. I learned I am resilient, and kind, and creative.
“The only tragedy in life is to have the experience and miss the meaning,” they say. I remember standing in the café one day, not long after the flood waters receded. It had been a busy day, full of tourists (the kind of customers we really like), and the end of the kind of seasonal business we had come to expect. Things had returned to normal. No, they were better, we were better, my business was better. Just as we will tell our children’s children they should “hoard cash” in case of a rainy day that turns into a flood, or a flu that becomes a Pandemic, so I was basking just for a moment in what I had learned. The “Open” sign flipped to “Closed” I stood, silently, in the middle of the floor, and just... took it all in.
And then the crickets came...
But that’s a story for another day.
I wish it didn’t take surprise to learn you were brave. I wish it didn’t take pain to learn you were strong. I wish it didn’t take hardship to learn you are capable. But it does.
Susan earned her bachelor’s degree in Fashion Merchandising Management from FIT and studied branding abroad at the University of Westminster. Her most recent positions include Merchandise Manager for Cohen’s Fashion Optical and Northeast Regional Trainer for Solstice Sunglasses. Susan started her own business in 2009 and sold it in 2016 to return to Connecticut and begin working for IDOC, helping other small business owners find success on their own terms. For questions or comments about this article, please contact email@example.com.