St. Augustine businesses hoping to avoid another round of devastation

With the knowledge of just how much wreckage a major storm can leave in its wake, local business owners are doing what they can to mitigate another financial disaster with Hurricane Irma approaching. The problem is that there really isn’t a handbook because all storms are different.


Last year’s brush with Hurricane Matthew brought a shocking amount of damage to the area, especially to homes and businesses in downtown St. Augustine and Davis Shores. Irma is an even more powerful storm that has the potential to deal St. Johns County another serious blow.

Karen Rochelle, co-owner of Rochelle’s Clothing on Anastasia Boulevard, said they had 8-10 inches of water in their store last year. This time, they’re putting up storm shutters and moving inventory to higher ground.

“Whether we prepared properly or not, I don’t know,” she said.

She’s hardly alone in her uncertainty.

Throughout downtown St. Augustine and onto Anastasia Boulevard — areas that saw severe flooding in Matthew — there were signs that business owners were trying to get themselves ready for the worst. And in some cases, they’ve already gotten out.

Several businesses along King Street were closed Thursday, and many of them were already boarded up tight even though the storm will probably not affect this area until Saturday or Sunday.

Many business owners on Thursday were in the process of getting their shops ready for whatever Irma brings.

Dan Sostrom’s toneVENDOR record shop on King Street was absolutely swamped last year in the flood. Like others in downtown, Sostrom knew there was some danger of flooding, but he just didn’t anticipate the level the area experienced.

This time around, he’s trying to be better prepared for what might happen. On Thursday, Sostrom and one of his employees were moving inventory up off the floor and hopefully to a more secure position.

“I don’t know that I would have thought to do this much last year,” he said. “I think because of the storm, now I know what to do. At least it helped me prepare.

“We weren’t so unfortunate that we lost everything. We did lose a lot. Now we know what needs be protected. And we had more time this time.”

Just a few dozen steps away from the record shop, Karla Wagner, owner of the Corazon Cinema and Café on Granda Street, was taking care of some of her last customers of the week Thursday afternoon.

She’ll be closed through the weekend so she can get the place ready for another storm. The hope is to avoid any semblance of last year’s devastation.

“It was horrific,” Wagner said. “It was to the point where I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to reopen.

“Talking to my husband outside, I’m like, ‘I don’t know if we can do this again.’ It was a little bit emotional to say the least.”

After losing a month of business to rebuild, Wagner is doing what she can to prevent a repeat of Matthew’s damage. She’ll seal the doors and windows and get most of the furniture off the ground and hope for the best.

“It’s so surreal think we’re going to go through this again,” she said.

What some business owners like Wagner have discovered is the importance of flood insurance — and the importance of understanding one’s policy.

Wagner said she had flood insurance last year, but she was still on the hook for all of the contents of the building that were ruined in the flooding.

Tammy Taylor-Whitehead, who owns Florida Cash pawn shop on King Street and USA Jewelry and Pawn on U.S. 1, said she made the mistake of not having flood insurance last year. It’s an error she corrected for this storm season.

The impact of Matthew caused about $80,000 worth of damage to Florida Cash, Taylor-Whitehead said.

“We definitely have insurance this year,” Taylor-Whitehead said. “We learned a lot from last year. We learned that the water can come up (so high), and we put everything up off the ground. (Last year) even stuff in our safes, guns and stuff, were ruined.”

It was shocking to see such flood damage from Matthew, she said. The store has been in the family for more than 20 years, and Taylor-Whitehead admitted that she just wasn’t ready for such a scene.

“We all just absolutely cried when we walked in last year,” she said. “It was just horrible. I imagine every other homeowner or business owner that got damaged felt that way, too.”