By Brianna Kurzynowski firstname.lastname@example.org
When Hurricane Matthew hit the city of St. Augustine, it not only destroyed homes it also hit businesses hard.
Sherry Stoppelbein, owner of Hot Shot Bakery and Cafe, was one of the downtown merchants who lost part of her business due to the water damage.
The bakery and cafe had two locations, Granada Street and Cordova Street. During the storm the Granada Street location suffered water damage of at least two feet.
Stoppelbein has owned and operated the Granada Street Location for almost nine years.
“We’ve built up… a real serious local follow and it became like a neighborhood hot spot,” she said. “Professors would come over with their whole class and we would have classes in there so Flagler [College] became a big part of the business and as did all my local trade.”
Hot Shot even built up a clientele of international regulars. Stoppelbein said she was well known by the tourist industry in downtown and they would refer tourists to the bakery because of Stoppelbein’s consistency.
Stoppelbein is from St. Augustine and said she has experienced many hurricanes in the past but has never suffered water damage. “It’s usually wind and its often loss of power from trees falling over,” she said.
She said she did not expect the depth of the water to be as high as it was, so she was not completely prepared. “I didn’t put stuff up high enough but a lot of my motors are on the floor for all my coolers and that’s the basis of my business,” Stoppelbein said.
When she saw the videos of town she was worried. She said she saw the video of water rushing through Flagler and she was nervous for her business because they are located so close together. She also saw a photo of the little park in front of the Lightner Museum, where the hedges were completely under water. This really concerned her and she was convinced the Granada Street location was gone for good.
From the photo “it looked like [water] was halfway up my windows and that’s an easy 6 or 7 feet because it’s a drop off and we have a couple of steps in and I’m sure that helped us some but not enough,” Stoppelbein said.
Once the storm had calmed down on the afternoon of Oct. 7, she decided to try and check on her cafe. “I got to U.S. 1 and King Street and the water was level with U.S. 1,” she said. Stoppelbein tried to find several different side streets to drive down so she could get near the Granada Street location. That’s when she decided to go home and try to come back the next day.
Stoppelbein was finally able to get through downtown to Granada Street early Saturday morning. “I called my refrigerator repairman to come and check everything out and all the water was gone. It drained really good and when I got in and opened the door you could just see where everything had been moved,” she said.
“I lost my cupcake cooler. The ice machine was down and two freezers were gone,” she said. Her repairman told her some of the machinery was recoverable; however, some was not. He was able to fix the ice machine right away and had to only purchase one piece to get the cupcake cooler back up and running.
“We lost quite a bit – I would say easily $6,000 to $7,000. I’ve yet to total it completely,” she said. She got in contact with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), who sent her over to the Small Business Association (SBA).
“[SBA] are offering what they call a bridge loan,” she said. “It’s more like a home equity because they will loan you up to $25,000. You borrow that and use a thousand. That’s all you’re paying interest on and they’re not charging us any interest which is so helpful,” she said.
With all of the worrying about the Granada Street location, Stoppelbein didn’t start on their Cordova Street location until they began cleaning up the first store.
“We opened the door and it looked just like it did when we left so we just locked the door and went back” to Granada Street, she said.
Stoppelbein said she believes they had about two feet of water inside so everything below the 2-foot mark they tossed in the trash.
“We decided within 48 hours of the storm to close it, so I lost nine years of my life,” she said. Stoppelbein said losing this location was like losing a loved one. “I had to bury that place. We’re just about out of there. Some days I can walk in there and it doesn’t bother me, and some days it’s too much,” she said.
Even though Stoppelbein experienced this loss, she has a positive outlook of her business’s future. “It helps to know the community is helping each other. I’ve always had the attitude that competition is good not evil. It makes me become better and keeps me on my toes. Don’t worry about them because whatever you got is most likely different,” she said.
She also sees more locations in her future. “I have all my career wanted to have multiple units, “she said.
The newest location, Cordova Street, fell right together according to Stoppelbein. “It was absolutely empty. It took me three weeks to find the owner of this and when I did, it just all went into place. I opened this July 1. I mean that’s just a couple months before the storm and it’s like God had a plan. He put me in place and from Day 1 I was trying to get the food license here and couldn’t get it. It was just a nightmare dealing with the state and three weeks before the storm, I got it,” Stoppelbein said.
Stoppelbein not only has this positive outlook for her business, but for all of St. Augustine. “Downtown was crippled but will come back. It’s on its way and I feel like Nights of Lights is going to totally bring it back.”
Stoppelbein’s hope for the annual light celebration to bring the city back kicks off this coming Saturday. Florida’s historic coast’s website explains the Nights of Lights celebration will glow with more than 3 million brilliant white lights all around the city of St. Augustine. The celebration will run through the end of January.