Thursday, March 20, 1997
Flooded business owners
left high and dry

The Cincinnati Enquirer

FALMOUTH - Every day that Randy Bastin's card and clothing stores remain closed is a day's less income.

But federal disaster officials want him and 71 other Falmouth business owners shut down by the March 1 flooding to hold off repairs until the bureaucracy moves into gear.

''We are pressed for time to get back into business and I don't have time to fill out a complicated application.'' he said Wednesday. ''I need to start selling again to cover the costs of this cleanup.''

There are no grant programs to assist private businesses in disaster recovery. The only programs offered are 4 percent loans up to $1.5 million through the Small Business Administration and 26 weeks of unemployment insurance.

It's the best the government can offer, SBA spokesman Don Waite said. ''The government's main concern is to get people back with their families in places to live,'' he said. ''Business is not the top concern.''

Frustrated by what they perceive as a lack of concern over their plight, business owners have begun to rebuild - against the advice of relief officials. They are draining their savings, going into debt and banding together to help themselves.

Like many of her peers, Ruby Colbin, who owns Ruby's Beauty Salon on Main Street, is relying on the labor of friends and volunteers to get her shop in working condition.

Although they've lost inventory and income, and their futures are uncertain, owners like Ms. Colbin and Mr. Bastin scoff at the idea of taking a government loan. If grants are unavailable, many would rather borrow locally.

''It's lousy,'' Ms. Colbin said. ''Anybody can get a loan. We need free money.''

Mr. Bastin registered with the Federal Emergency Management Agency and received the loan packet from the SBA. But the required paperwork prompted him to find alternatives.

''They want things like the last three years' tax records and mine is in the flood,'' he said.

''I've had prosperous years and I feel like I've paid my fair share and been loyal to my government and now they're giving me nothing.''

But Mr. Waite pointed out the requirements for SBA loans are no different than what a bank needs. Personal financial statements, business statements, tax information and monthly sales figures are needed to determine if a person can repay the loan.

''If they refuse a loan, then they are likely going to lose out on other forms of federal assistance,'' Mr. Waite said. ''If approved for a loan, they are expected to take it.''

Howard Hoess is opting not to.

The owner of the Dairy Queen is remodeling by the labor of friends and will get a loan from the United Kentucky Bank.

''People sticking together. That's what it's about,'' Mr. Hoess said. ''That's what will help us. Not the federal or state government.''

Aware that needed funds won't come from the money that people have been donating to such agencies as the American Red Cross and the United Way, city and county officials have started the Falmouth Flood Disaster Relief Fund.

Already $15,000 has been raised.

''It's for the whole entire county,'' said Phil Turner, Farmers National Bank president. ''We're trying to fill in the gaps where FEMA and insurance don't come in.''

These monies will be used to help keep businesses and residents in Falmouth. And if there is some left over, money will be given to city and county government.

Anyone wishing to donate can call toll free at 888-392-0330 or write the fund at P.O. box 213, Falmouth, Ky. 41040.

A lot of money is needed to get restarted. From just the 30 food service businesses, 600 tons of drugs, alcohol and food had to be dumped, said health department inspector Wayne Biddle.

When the flood hit, Falmouth was right in the middle of an economic boom. Economic Development Director Jack Wright said since 1990, $7 million to $10 million was invested in businesses. McDonald's just celebrated its one-year anniversary, Rite Aid was new, and Super America just completed a major renovation. All three plan to stay.

Many stores will reopen; a few already have. BB's Shell station, Rite Aid, Well's Market, the Bluegrass Tobacco Outlet and Pharmcare are open in Falmouth. BB's Shell station, the Farmer's Market and the Butler Restaurant are open in Butler.

Wyatt's Supervalue also will reopen within a month.

But owners are in a holding pattern, said Penny Conrad, whose husband, Russ, runs Conrad's Hardware and Furniture.

''We're waiting to see what the community will do,'' she said. ''Will they want our businesses here, are their habits previously with someone else or have we lost them already?''