It took 62 years and three generations for the Rose family to build up its liquor business in north Minneapolis and just five minutes for a twister to rip it asunder.
"It sucked the metal back door right out of the frame. We still haven't found it," Broadway Liquor Outlet owner Dean Rose said this week, while stepping over bricks that are still falling from his roof at the corner of W. Broadway and Penn.
Every window blew out. Mud puddles cover the warped floor. Refrigerator cases sit empty, pilfered by vandals who hit moments after the tornado slammed into north Minneapolis.
"I got a crash course in disaster management," Rose said, eyeing his battered business. Between the building damage, stolen inventory and lost wages, Rose estimates he's lost hundreds of thousands of dollars.
He is one of hundreds of small business owners shell shocked by the finicky tornado that landed and skipped at will, with no regard for sweat, toil or industry. Mom and pop restaurants, chiropractors, stores, dentists, day cares and other businesses along the North Side's commercial corridors were knocked so hard, some don't know if they'll ever recover. Most are still tallying damages.
To date, Minneapolis has 1,650 business insurance claims worth $44 million in losses related to the May 22 tornado, according to the Insurance Federation of Minnesota. The group, which reviewed preliminary claims from the state's largest insurance companies, reported that 11,400 homeowners, renters and car owners submitted claims totalling $57 million.
Extent of damage not known
City leaders, community groups and insurance firms say damage totals are sure to rise as North Side businesses get contractors and learn the full extent of the damage.
"We're not sure" of the damage totals, said Grover Jones, executive director of the Northside Economic Opportunity Network, a coalition of nonprofits devoted to improving the region. His group went door to door this week. "One of the things we already found out is that there is an impact on businesses beyond the apparent physical damage."
Hundreds of storefronts along W. Broadway, Penn, Lyndale and Lowry Avenues were forced to shut down because of water damage, power outages and a distraught customer base no longer able to shop.
Some businesses like Broadway Liquor are fully insured. Others are not. Business and city leaders, U.S. Bank, Wells Fargo and local nonprofits are cobbling together funds for those with little or no safety net.
The hope is that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the U.S. Small Business Administration may soon parcel out grants and loans. But first FEMA must declare north Minneapolis a disaster area. That decision is pending.
Government officials estimate north Minneapolis suffered about $14.4 million in "infrastructure" damage to traffic lights, waterworks, sidewalks and streets.
"Talk to everybody who survived this, and they were scared," said West Broadway Business and Area Coalition programs manager Erin Jerabek. "It's hard to see this happen."
The Penn Stop Gas station was largely obliterated. The Banana Blossom Restaurant, Rise and Shine Early Learning Center and the 42nd Ave. Station coffeehouse are coping with broken windows, roof damage or destroyed heating and cooling systems. Some owners report insurance carriers who argue that their policies don't cover damaged rooftop HVAC systems.
Businesses are racing to open their doors. Get Happy Oriental Foods on Lowry Avenue used generators and plywood to reopen quickly, but business is down by half. Customers see the boarded front door and assume it's closed, employees said. The owners hope insurance will make everything right.El-Amin Fish House reopened Thursday, with a hole in the roof and destroyed exhaust fans. Deep-frying fish for customers meant "cooking in the heat," said owner Sharon El-Amin.
The restaurant celebrated its 10th anniversary in April, just weeks before it was to open a 55-seat expansion. Those plans are now on hold. The insurance firm is resisting payment.
"We are in negotiations and in the meantime we are just trying to do the best we can," El-Amin said.
Some luckier than others
Some businesses and lives will recover more quickly than others. At the unscathed CVS on W. Broadway, new customers arrive every hour. With the gas station up the street "gone" and the liquor store down the street shut, CVS is benefiting, said a clerk as three men strolled in to use the ATM while two others bought cigarettes and candy.
Other businesses physically untouched by the tornado weren't so lucky. Cub Foods has been in triage mode for days.
The day disaster struck, Cub director Ed Anderson banded together with the Kemps warehouse across the street, Frito-Lay, Old Dutch and General Mills. Cub employees grilled hot dogs in the parking lot and helped serve 3,000 storm victims hot dogs, water, chips, cereal bars, milk and yogurt for two days.
They helped distribute food and water to another 2,000 homebound residents with the help of churches and nonprofits. By Monday, several store shelves were bare.
"We usually have 25,000 people wandering through the store in any given week. ... That first day, we probably lost 50 percent of our business," Anderson said. The city's curfew forced the 24-hour store to shut at 9 p.m.
By Wednesday of last week, sales were down only 20 percent. By week's end customers returned, many with newly loaded EBT cards provided by the government. The meat case emptied out quickly.
Five blocks from where the tornado touched down, U.S. Bank on W. Broadway and Emerson Avenue stayed busy. Two employees lost roofs. One lost her home. Scores of customers suffered damage to mortgaged homes and businesses. Overall, branch traffic is down just 10 percent, managers said.
Still others in the neighborhood worry where they'll go now that their jobs are in jeopardy. Back at Broadway Liquor, 10 employees are very worried. Rebuilding will take the better part of a year, too long for Rose to keep them on the payroll.
What will Travis Smith do next? "No telling," said the eight-year employee while clomping over debris. "I'm going to have to figure something out. I got a mortgage and three kids to feed."
Moments later, three customers stopped by to ask when Rose might reopen. "It'll be months. But we will reopen," Rose said, adding that he's fortunate the store is insured.
"I feel positive looking to the future. You have to clean up. You can't just walk away." Besides, he said, with insurance and federal funds, this may be north Minneapolis' best chance to become better than before.