Flooded S.E. Minnesota businesses rebuilding

Published 9:24 am Monday, September 8, 2008

David Ziegeweid gestured out of his car window at a newly built house on the right side of a road in Minnesota City.

“That’s my brother, Lyle’s, new house,” Ziegeweid said. “As you can see, it’s built up a little higher. They were devastated about as hard as anybody.”

Lyle’s house is across Highway 61 from the flooring store Ziegeweid bought from him in 1977, Lyle’s Flooring America.

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On Saturday evening, Aug. 17, 2007, Ziegeweid became concerned about heavy rain, and drove from his home in Winona to check the store.

“I dug an extra trench for water to get away,” he said. “My van got stuck in the mud when I tried to leave, and that was my first inkling that this was different.”

Early Sunday morning, he got a call from Lyle and sister-in-law Joann, who said their home and vehicles were destroyed.

Ziegeweid couldn’t get to the store until Sunday evening due to closed roads. When he finally arrived, he discovered 10 inches of water in the basement showroom.

“I was expecting it to be up to the ceiling,” Ziegeweid said. “It was sort of a relief.”

Water entered through the store’s front door, spilled through the main-level show room and went down the stairs, said the store’s design consultant Kim Beckendorf.

Ziegeweid got John Henkes from Dale’s Cleaning to pump water out that night.

The mud and water didn’t reach the upper level of the store, where the office is located, and they were able to open for business at the normal time that Monday morning.

But business was anything but usual.

At least six volunteers were in the store cleaning up for the next two weeks.

By February, the store was nearly back to pre-flood condition after some new paint jobs and displays.

In all, the business sustained nearly $75,000 in damage — nothing compared with other local businesses and homeowners, Ziegeweid said.

“We’re actually the lucky ones,” he said, “especially remembering the flood victims who lost their lives.”

Because of the nature of their business, the Ziegeweids found themselves in the awkward position of being suppliers for those who lost their homes. They were both victims and beneficiaries of the tragedy.

Homes in Minnesota City are still in repair, and as Ziegeweid drove earlier this month down Sherry Drive, just up Highway 61 from his store, people in their garages still swung hammers and pushed brooms.

Some houses have been completely gutted.

“The problem is that the dyke that was built to keep the Mississippi in kept the water here,” Ziegeweid said. “If the water could have gone over it, there would have been a lot of relief.”

The brunt of the flood was far reaching, going southwest to Rushford and beyond.

Some stores got updated; others were completely rebuilt.

Eric Howe started working at Pam’s Corner Convenience in Rushford nearly a year ago. He got the job from Pam Brand, his neighbor and the store’s owner. His first day wasn’t spent training on register — it was spent cleaning up the three feet of water.

It took a team of workers and volunteers less than a week to get the gas pumps going.

“All we sold for a while was gas, pop and cigarettes,” Howe, 23, said.

When the water receded, Howe discovered a layer of dirt from the river.

“We had to get everything out of the store,” he said. “We had a lot of help from a lot of people.”

Another convenience store in town, Kwik Trip, doesn’t hold any remnant of the past. John McHugh, the chain’s director of corporate communications, said it was completely rebuilt.

“You wouldn’t be able to tell it was flooded,” McHugh said. “We had to rebuild from the ground up. We’re so heavy into food sales and that makes the issue of mold more prudent.”

Judy Christian and her husband, Pat, own Stumpy’s Restaurant in Rushford.

They suffered a total loss in the basement and accumulated 14 inches of water upstairs.

“It was a big loss,” Christian said. “We had to put it back in working order if we ever wanted to resell.”

After a few weeks, the Christians put on barbecues inside the restaurant to keep things as normal as they could. Stumpy’s officially re-opened in November, just in time for hunting season. Damage is still obvious to people who enter, but the restaurant is slowly coming together.

“We weren’t fully operational, and we’re still not all done,” Christian said. “It’s a slow process, especially after working every day.”

Rushford Foods, Rushford’s only full grocery store, started the clean-up process Aug. 23, 2007. A little more than two months later, they re-opened the store.

The changes to the physical side of the store are minor — a higher ceiling and a brighter look. Other changes may be harder to spot.

“I think there’s no doubt that we think about things differently than we used to,” Jim Hoiness, co-owner of Rushford Foods, said. “When you have devastation like we’ve had in Rushford, it’s definitely a life changing.”

More than 200 volunteers helped Hoiness and a staff of 48 put the store back together, with a price tag of a little under $1 million.

“We’re much further ahead than I would have ever expected when I do reflect back,” Hoiness said.