But many merchants are feeling the pain of decreased sales, and some feel that it’s a matter of misinformation.
Donna Taylor, owner of Kozy Boutique on Nashville St., says she has heard of several incidents of people not realizing that most of Ringgold is open for business. “People are thinking that the entire town was leveled.”
The path of the tornado’s fury has made for a lengthy recovery, with debris piled high in many places around town and some businesses and residences still untouched since the storm.
“It’s been depressing coming into town each day and passing all the debris and construction,” Taylor said.
Teresa James, owner of the Ringgold Wedding Chapel, says she feels like the news media, particularly television, has oversold the disaster.
“I don’t mean to take away from what happened, and I understand that the reports and images of the destruction are what captures viewers,” she said, “but this has been devastating to us as well.”
James said she gets at least one call a day from someone who simply wants to see if anyone is there to answer the phone.
This is the worst she’s seen since buying the business three and a half years ago, she said. “I used to do 5-8 weddings a day — almost more than my staff and I could handle, but it’s been so slow lately that I recently had to lay off one of my sales associates.”
Jones says the best recourse for her is to drum up business. “FEMA doesn’t give money for a slump in business.”
Raye Brooks, who serves as president of the Ringgold Downtown Partners business association, says that without electricity the week after the storm, it was tough for all the downtown businesses.
“When the power was restored we had a lot of the cleanup crews from all over coming in,” she said, “but after about a week it died down.”
Taylor says she has been fortunate enough to have regular customers who have helped keep her business above water. “But there are times when I sit here for hours and don’t see a soul.”
While most merchants have been able to tread water enough to stay downtown, some shops have not been so fortunate.
Kimberly Guthrie, owner of Gigi’s Cottage children’s boutique, is moving her business from the little brick house on Cleveland Street to the new I-75 Flea Market at the old Kinder’s Furniture Mall.
Gigi’s had been open for business just six months when the tornado hit in April, and Guthrie said sales had been going fairly well. “In just a matter of months we had 400 people on our mailing list.”
In fact, the business had grown enough that Guthrie says she was considering a move to a larger location on Nashville Street.
That was before April 27.
“The tornado hit my store — it didn’t blow away the structure, but it did blow away my business,” she said.
In the midst of the post-tornado slump, 1890s Day helped sales a bit, Guthrie said, but that was the kind of volume she needs every day.
“As much as I love Ringgold, I would have died a slow death if I’d stayed there,” she said. “You can’t live on $79 a week.”
What to do
City of Ringgold marketing coordinator Daniel Shepherd says that recovery and rebuilding have eclipsed the situation with small businesses that weren’t damaged but have suffered economically.
He said he plans to meet with the Ringgold Downtown Partners soon to form a plan for drumming up business. “We do need to get the message out that, although parts of Ringgold still have a long recovery ahead, the majority of the town is open.”
Shepherd says that several ideas have been floated about special events that could attract people to town and help get the economic juices flowing again, from a fall festival akin to 1890s Day to a “Grand Re-Opening” merchants’ expo at the Ringgold Depot.
Brooks, one of the owners of Ringgold Art & Frame Gallery, said that 1890s Day this year helped a bit. “Just getting people into town to see that Ringgold wasn’t wiped off the map made a difference.”
She hopes the renovation of Cleburne Street, which runs behind her store to the north of Nashville Street, will continue and that merchants and the city will soon be able to focus on staging events there. “It’s a great place for art shows and farmer’s markets and events like that.”
The Downtown Partners plan to keep staging the “Girls’ Night Out” event each month where merchants keep extended hours and offer refreshments along with sales specials.
“The one we had just after the tornado was great,” Brooks said. “Lots of people turned out, and it was a much-needed time of fellowship for them to share their experiences.”
Shepherd said that people seeking to help with Ringgold’s recovery could do a service almost as charitable as helping storm victims: “Shop local and encourage their friends to do the same.”
James said her fellow downtown business owners depend on each other, and she proclaims her resolve succinctly: “I’m not giving up.”