Arlington, VA

It’s been a tumultuous road to recovery for two Westover stores devastated by this summer’s record-breaking floods.

Ayers Variety and Hardware and Westover Market and Beer Garden are local institutions that were unfortunately placed directly in the path of floodwaters. Waters flooded both stores and knocked out power to the block.

“Every week it gets better,” said Devin Hicks, manager of Westover Market. “This place has never looked so clean and the community support has been tremendous.”

As Westover Market approaches its ten-year anniversary, Hicks said he’s feeling optimistic.

“It’s been a fight the entire time,” Hicks said. “But everyone’s been remarking that they’re happy to see us persevere. It’s been a rough two months, but it gets better every day.”

Next door, however, recovery has not been as easy for Ayers. The local store has been in business for 70 years selling everything from gardening supplies to plastic toys. But Kristy Peterkin, a manager for the store, said the business was already hard-hit by recent tariffs from the ongoing trade war with China.

“At the same time as the flood, one tier of the China trade tariff hit,” Peterkin said. “Now the second tier is starting to take effect. That’s a big hit.”

Peterkin says the company tries to buy American, but most of the stock they sell is almost exclusively manufactured overseas.

“Probably about 75 percent of what we sell is not American-made,” Peterkin said, “and we’ve seen a 25 percent increase in the prices. Walmart absorbs that price, but we can’t.”

The flood heavily exacerbated what was already a not-so-great situation. Water poured into the Ayers basement, ruining thousands of dollars in merchandise and leaving the store with nowhere to put overstocked goods. Today, half of the basement remains unusable.

“Until that’s fixed, we have nowhere to store additional [stock] that comes in,” Peterkin said. “We’re out of money to spend paying people to fix things, so repairs are on us now, which takes a lot longer. My husband and I work evenings trying to clear the basement.”

The basement flooding has left the store with limited inventory, as Peterkin said they have to be more careful about what they purchase because there’s no room to store surplus and they can’t afford to take a risk on items that they aren’t sure will sell.

“We’re kind of in a rough place right now,” Peterkin said. “I don’t know how that will look in the long run. We’re taking it one step at a time.”

Both stores said a GoFundMe campaign set up to support Westover retailers was a tremendous boon at a time of dire need. Hicks said Westover Market received roughly $30,000 and was particularly thankful to Whitlow’s On Wilson in Clarendon, which hosted a fundraiser event for the Westover stores.

“The event at Whitlow’s was great,” Hicks said. “It had a great turnout, there was great music, and everyone really rallied.”

Ayers received roughly $32,000 and Peterkin said the funding took a chunk out of the estimated $250,000 in lost sales and merchandise.

Peterkin also said there was an initial uptick in sales after the flood where members of the community came out to support the store, but since then numbers have dwindled back down and revenue is flat.

“In business, flat basically means down,” Peterkin said. “If business is flat, everything else still goes up, like rent and payroll and insurance. But to stay competitive, we can’t raise prices to accommodate.”

With winter on the way and a heating unit still out of service from the floods, Peterkin said there are still more costs looming on the horizon and no clear way to afford to pay for them.

There are also concerns that if heavy storms sweep through the area again, the same damage will happen all over. During the floods, Hicks said he saw the sewage pipes in the area become almost immediately overwhelmed and start spewing the water back up into the streets.

“The county needs to address this,” Hicks said. “They need to clean the sewage drains. They have to address it county-wide because it’s only going to get worse.”

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