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Business was down, not out
Owners, employees find ways to overcome weather
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Forsyth County News

Forsyth County area businesses weathered the weather as best they could last week.

Some were able to function almost as normal, while others had to make due with a skeleton crew or other limiting factors.

Sam Budhani, owner of Leon’s Food Mart in north Forsyth, said he and his staff were committed to remaining open.

“We’re a 35-year tradition and we make sure we’re always open,” he said, noting that “about 75 percent of the staff” was able to make it into work throughout the worst two days, Wednesday and Thursday.

He said it seemed the surrounding neighborhood residents were appreciative. “We always had bread, eggs, milk, everything. Nothing was out. We served the community.”

As for the customers, he said, they got to the store mostly on foot, though some used nonstandard means of transportation.

“Some came on ATVs and some of our customers even have horses that they rode in on.”

The fact that so many people stayed out of their cars on Wednesday and Thursday led Kevin Herbert to do something he’s never had to do before.

“For the first time in my career, we were closed for two days,” said the owner of several Herbert Automotive and Handy Lube locations in Forsyth and Cherokee counties.

“I think once back in the 1990s and once in the 2000s we were closed for one day, but we were closed this Wednesday and Thursday due to the fact that it just didn’t make sense to try and get our guys in there when there just wasn’t anybody out there.”

To Herbert, it seemed folks were more cautious as last week’s storm came on the heels of the Jan. 28-31 episode that left thousands strained on metro Atlanta roads for hours.

“It seemed that people were really trying to heed the advice of the officials this time,” he said. “Initially, I thought it was an overreaction, but after I thought about it for a while, I thought it was the right reaction.”

Freddy Burch, manager of the Hampton Inn on Ronald Reagan Boulevard, said he and his staff also learned from last month’s storm.

“[Two weeks ago] we probably turned away over 200 people on the telephone and probably 100 people in person,” Burch said. “This time wasn’t nearly as bad as that first storm.

“We had that little boost [in customer volume], which gave us an idea of how to better handle everything, and we were a little better equipped because … we learned.”

Burch said the hotel “ran a full house the entire week with a limited staff.”

“We were working with a skeleton crew, but we did the best we could with what was thrown at us,” he said, adding that the full capacity was due to several factors.

“There were people’s houses that flooded because their pipes froze and stuff like that. There were people that lost electricity. There were other people who needed to get to work in the Cumming area who live outside of the area, so they sought a more conveniently located shelter.”

Some hotel staff members who could make it into work ended up sleeping on roll-away beds in the laundry area or in booths elsewhere.

“Kudos to my staff … I can’t tell you how loyal and dedicated they were to not only this hotel but to myself and the guests that were here,” he said. “It was amazing and very humbling.”

Ronnie McCormick’s staff pulled together to prevent what could have been a major blow for his business, Lanierland Florist on Hwy. 20, due to the weather’s timing.

Valentine’s Day, which was Friday, is one of McCormick’s busiest days of the year and its success relies on the ability to make deliveries. The store did end up losing out on Wednesday.

“But about half of us made it in on Thursday, so we managed to weather through what potentially could have been devastating for a florist,” he said. “Then the weather opened up [Thursday afternoon] and we were able to fulfill all our commitments.

“We had a lot of extra help on Friday, so we made it through.”

McCormick also noted that his customers were “very understanding. So that made life a whole lot easier. People realized we were doing the best we could.”

That sense of understanding is something that Lauren McDonald and his staff know all about.  

“Families understand that’s one thing we cannot do is control Mother Nature,” said the owner of McDonald and Son Funeral Home.

Fortunately, however, the winter weather didn’t impact any funeral services.

“We’re a 24-hour, seven-day-a-week business, so we never know when we’ll be called on to receive a loved one into our care, so we have to always be prepared for any circumstances,” he said.

“When someone has a loss, we have to get there so we just have to plan smart and that’s what we did. We had all kinds of plans in place to make sure that our families [of the deceased] were taken care of.”

Regardless of the weather’s impact, it seemed all the business leaders were glad life was returning to normal Friday.

“I have one employee, our head of housekeeping, who has been here the whole time,” said Burch, the Hampton Inn manager. “She finally gets to go home and sleep in her own bed tonight and then I think everything will be back to normal for everyone.”

Overall, the business people said they found both good and bad in the experience. While losing two days did sting, Herbert was glad his automotive shop workers got a little break.

“It was a good time for the employees,” he said. “It was a chance for them to spend some time with their kids and get some things done at the house that they wouldn’t ordinarily have time to do.”

For Burch, the experience ended up showing the strength of his staff and the community.

“It found it very heartwarming, personally,” he said. “A lot of people in the community just pulled together and weathered the storm together.”