305 King St Charleston SC 29401 (843) 804-6710

Downtown Charleston businesses slowly returning to normal after Hurricane Irma; City Market to reopen Wednesday

September 13, 2017

Downtown Charleston businesses slowly returning to normal after Hurricane Irma; City Market to reopen Wednesday

Sandbags guarded some shop doors, plywood covered retail windows and closed signs greeted customers at several downtown Charleston businesses early Tuesday, but the city's shopping district slowly eased back to its normal bustle after Hurricane Irma's unwelcome arrival a day earlier.

Workers replaced window boxes on storefronts while shopkeepers rehung store signs and uncovered boarded-up windows.

At The Audubon Gallery on lower King Street, art store owner Burton Moore steadied a ladder while worker Cameron Yarnell undrilled bolts from plywood at the shop.

He lost two days of business, as he closed his shop Saturday and Monday. It's normally closed on Sunday.

Moore blamed 24-hour coverage of the storm for scaring people away.

"It wrecks business for a week," he said.

Forecasters initially put the storm on a track for Charleston, but the hurricane later shifted west before making landfall in the Florida Keys and then southwest Florida over the weekend. It then churned north up the Florida peninsula, whipping tropical storm-force winds and waves up the southeast coast, including Charleston.

The storm's nearly 10-foot tide on Monday in Charleston washed over the Battery and flooded the City Market, a longtime staple of the downtown shopping district for tourists and locals alike.

The historic venue remained closed Tuesday but will reopen Wednesday, according to market director Barry Newton.

"We are basically sweeping up the mud and debris, and we will be open tomorrow," Newton said.

Some water entered the enclosed portion of the blocks-long market that extends from East Bay to Meeting streets, but Newton said flooding was minor and "nothing got ruined."

The storm's economic impact in Charleston or South Carolina hasn't been measured, but it's expected to be felt as businesses and schools closed ahead of and during the storm.

When Irma first threatened the East Coast, tourists began leaving town on Friday, Newton said.

"Days closed due to the storm and cleanup, and those immediately before and after are slow," Newton said. "It's terrible, but we hope to be back up to a normal pace by the weekend."

On King Street, men's clothier Jordan Lash boarded up last week, took the plywood down when the forecast changed and then replaced it before closing the shop from Saturday through Monday.

On Tuesday, the windows were no longer covered and he was stocking the store as usual, waiting for customers to return.

Lash said the storm didn't help business, but he looks at the financial impact differently.

He said no one would be shopping anyway because everybody is either hunkered down or out of town.

"It's a loss of business because you aren't open, but it shouldn't financially impact anyone unless you are already in trouble," he said. "If you are living day to day with your business, you are looking at a recipe for disaster."

Lash said sales have been "phenomenal" during the past three weeks with the fall line arriving and college students back in town.

He expects shoppers to be back once governments and schools return to a normal schedule.

At Taziki's Mediterranean Cafe across the street, the restaurant remained open until 5 p.m. Sunday and stayed closed Monday during the height of the storm.

"We probably took a 40 to 60 percent hit Friday through Sunday," cafe worker Sean Norton said. Many of his customers and staff are college students, and many of them left town.

He blamed the loss on people evacuating ahead of the storm and the nearby College of Charleston closing during the tropical system.

But, Norton said, several Floridians who evacuated to Charleston stopped by the restaurant over the weekend when many other places were shuttered.

"And some tourists were looking for a place when they had nowhere else to go," he said.

He expects business to return to normal when college students return and other shops reopen on King Street. Classes at the College of Charleston are scheduled to resume Thursday.