By day – Two businesses in Norwich city center are still cleaning up after the September 2 flood
Norwich – Almost a month after 4 feet of water flooded his screen printing studio in the basement of the Sunlight Building on Franklin Street, Ashon Avent is still pulling out polo shirts, hats, custom printed jackets and tote bags -all soaked.
Avent, owner of custom design and printing company Main Avent Athletics & Apparel and T-Shirt World, lost at least $ 30,000 in clothing inventory, plus two printing machines, custom designed screens for repeat customers and a lot of momentum in its efforts to recover from the setbacks of COVID-19.
The same goes for his business neighbor, Joseph Herndon, owner of American Stitch Lab, which makes bespoke embroidered clothing, as well as screen-printed promotional material. The two have been part of the vibrant entrepreneurial scene at the corner of Franklin and Bath Streets. Herndon estimated his losses at over $ 45,000, including six machines.
Their two liability insurance companies denied coverage, and they did not have flood insurance. The two provided their estimated losses to the city for its submission to the Federal Emergency Management Agency in hopes that the state would be approved for a disaster declaration for damage from the 7.5 inches of rain that struck Norwich on September 2 from the remnants of the hurricane. Ida.
“It’s disheartening,” Avent said. “You put all of your effort, your resources and your energy into something, and now it’s happening. It was hard enough during COVID. “
“Insurance hasn’t covered it,” Herndon said, “so we have to move on. We asked FEMA for help. He doesn’t look too hot and fuzzy right now.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Avent held pop-up store events to market its wares and products from nearby stores in Foundry 66’s shared workspace. When COVID-19 hit, youth sports and high schools were closed and his line of personalized sportswear was immediately suspended. It switched to making affordable printed t-shirts to fill the void and partnered with online retailers to print their products under license.
As things picked up, Avent was forced to pre-purchase hundreds of blank shirts and keep them in stock to avoid supply chain disruptions when customers placed orders.
Many of those shirts, hats and jackets and the cardboard boxes containing them sank to the bottom of what became a 4-foot lake in his workshop. He tried to recover as much as possible, spending hundreds of dollars at local laundromats to clean less damaged items. But some boxes were double hit by the sewage overflow and the stench was almost unbearable, he said.
Some customers couldn’t wait for his slow recovery and canceled orders, forcing him to pay refunds with the little money he had in reserve.
PC Restoration of Stonington, a fire and water damage cleaning company, donated the use of two industrial fans to dry the basement and sprayed anti-mold chemicals.
“Three weeks later, and we’re still cleaning up,” Avent said. “Finally, (the floor) is cleaned and dry. “
A printing machine remains operational and Avent has found a plastic bin containing unscathed printed tote bags for East Lyme Giving Garden. “They were in a plastic bin. They floated, ”he said.
A professor at Eastern Connecticut State University, Avent mentors business students and offers internships for entrepreneurship students. This semester, two interns experience first-hand the risks of starting and running a small business as they’ve helped remove still soaked and dripping shirts from crumbling boxes.
Herndon, a 21-year military veteran and now a recruiter for the Connecticut National Guard, is also looking to the future. Two of his machines are running and he’s taking orders, although American Stitch Lab has yet to reopen. He hopes customers will be patient with a slow turnaround time for orders.
Herndon’s wife, Kari Herndon, and sister, Jessica Persad, are busy running their own business at the Foundry 66 complex. The two are preparing to open their new cafe, Cream, on Franklin Street at the end of October.
Both Joseph Herndon and Avent are looking for a new, expanded space to continue their business, perhaps elsewhere in the Foundry 66 complex – “No more basements,” they both said – or in other local locations.
“You have to do everything, the best you can,” Avent said, “and hope for some help, maybe a grant or something like that.”
Norwich Mayor Peter Nystrom was at the Advent store the day after the flooding, when Advent’s insurance agent told him the damage would not be covered. Nystrom said he urged the two business owners, and everyone else who suffered damage from the storm, to submit their information for possible FEMA help.
Finding help from the city might be more difficult. Nystrom said federal grants from the city’s US bailout are helping businesses hit by the pandemic. He counted Avent’s stock loss in this area, as supply chain disruptions related to the pandemic forced Avent to source materials.
“You wouldn’t normally keep that level of inventory,” Nystrom said, “but he had to buy in bulk.”
City council recently approved a $ 2 million grant to Norwich Community Development Corp., which manages Foundry 66. At least $ 400,000 of the grant is earmarked for small businesses. The funding will be used for building code improvements, lease discounts and revolving loans, so Nystrom said the two flood-damaged businesses could qualify if they find new space in Norwich and are approved through the application review process.
Mary Riley, community manager for Foundry 66, said Foundry has “minimal” management of the Sunlight Building retail business, but its businesses are members of Foundry. The agency will help businesses find a new space, possibly on the second floor of 66 Franklin Street, as well as move their machines.
“COVID has been pretty tough going through,” Riley said. “To get to this place, where they were marching, to have it washed away by a flood. It is a difficult situation to live with.