Business that can, open after Florence

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Some Wilmington-area stores, restaurants were busy after the storm, while others were struggling.

Damage from Hurricane Florence wasn’t readily evident Wednesday at the Mayfaire shopping center, except in a lingering odor that floated over a parking lot that wasn’t as full as it usually would be.

Across Southeastern North Carolina, businesses that were able to open soon after the storm (especially groceries, gas stations, hardware stores and restaurants) have been busy. Some boasted long lines as people waited to spend money on supplies.

Mayfaire, like many other business centers, is among those that are officially closed. Here and there, staff was beginning to assess the damage and move forward.

A two-person crew was repairing a ceiling at Chipotle Mexican Grill on Wednesday. Nick Moriarty and Cathy Miriam were taking a quick lunch break from their work at Pier 1 Imports, which was running fans, air conditioning and dehumidifiers. At that store, floodwaters seeped in from the floorboards, and some rugs were ruined.

“But it wasn’t as bad as it could have been,” Moriarty said.

Elsewhere in the center, Shawn Higham, general manager at Fox & Hound Bar & Grill, guesses that he threw away a couple thousand dollars worth of fresh food.

“But what was in our freezer is fine,” he said.

They plan to cook the burgers, wings and fries for the community beginning at 2 p.m. Thursday. And maybe pulled pork, if their pork butts thaws in time.

“It will be a hot meal,” he said. “We’ll serve until we run out.”

He and a few other members of the staff were cleaning the restaurant, which escaped serious damage except for one ceiling tile that fell to the floor.

“We think we’ll have a food delivery on Friday and may be open for the weekend,” he said. At least, he hopes so.

At least one Mayfaire business was open. Which Wich opened Wednesday, but manager Molly Rohlfing said the word must not be out yet. They had a few people in the shop at 11:45 a.m.

“It’s been pretty frustrating,” she said. The staff has been monitoring the food at the restaurant to make sure it was still good, and trying to coordinate a food delivery from Raleigh on flooded roads.

Across the street at The Forum, it was a similar situation. Boombalatti’s Homemade Ice Cream was open (as was their location downtown), and serving free ice cream for first responders.

But that wasn’t the case for Epic Food Co. The restaurant had power, but no food or staff, said owner James Bain, who was spending Wednesday cleaning and sanitizing the kitchen. “Top to bottom. You need to, if you’ve been without power any length of time.”

“Our food is fresh. I gave away what I could, maybe three or four thousand dollars worth, before I closed,” he said. “And I would say all of our staff, most are college students, evacuated.”

Bain is from the area and has been a longtime business owner here. He said he’s usually stayed during storms.

“For this one, the duration of the storm and the number of people who evacuated make it stand out,” he said. “That’s the X factor for me, not having my staff.”

Staffing was also an issue at San Felipe at Westgate Marketplace in Leland, not that it stopped the restaurant from opening at 3 p.m. Monday

“It’s been busy,” said Oscar Zaragoza, one of the owners. “Kind of worse than Cinco de Mayo. We have half the staff and three times the business.”

The restaurant had a “Ca$h Only!!” sign on the door, but people kept opening it at lunch time on Wednesday. It was full of locals, and workers who are in town helping with hurricane recovery.

“We’re lucky in Leland, but not in Porters Neck,” Zaragoza said. He also owns a restaurant there, which still isn’t open. While the the power was only out for about two hours in Leland, not long enough to affect the food, the perishables in Porters Neck are lost.

Hurricane Florence caused many businesses to lose product, and each day they are closed means more lost revenue.

“That’s part of it. But it isn’t just about the money,” Higham said. “I’m just ready for some normalcy.”