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Main Attractions: After Flood, A New Ellicott City Is Born
When strolling through Ellicott City’s Main Street, it’s hard to tell that anything as serious as the flood of July 2016 ever took place. On a sunny Thursday this June, people were milling up and down enjoying the weather, perhaps taking time to pop in one of the many independent stores that line the street or savoring a bite to eat at one of the town’s restaurants. There were virtually no signs to the untrained eye that on July 30, 2016, this historic destination in Howard County was hammered by six inches of rain in two hours. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development was there to assist displaced business owners and residents alike.
Maureen Smith, the executive director of the Ellicott City Partnership, can tell you down to the day how long it has been since the flood. While walking along Main Street, she often stops to point out areas where the flood damage was particularly severe or sites of stores that may have moved to a different spot on the street or that did not come back after the storm. The combination of the amount of rain and the short time span over which it fell created a flash flood on Main Street, causing significant damage and costing two people their lives.
“It was absolutely devastating,” Smith said. “It was just awful. There was absolutely nothing good about the flood.” But now, she is optimistic. “We’re getting a whole brand new town. Almost every building was affected. Everybody had to renovate…so we’re going to end up with really nice all-new stores, a whole new attitude, a new culture, new everything. It’s really exciting.”
As a result of the flood and the damage caused, 17 stores ultimately ended up being unable to resume operations due to the high costs associated. However, Smith said, the town has attracted 17 new businesses, and three more are expected to open in the near future.
With the help of a retail expert who had been working with Ellicott City business owners before the flood, things were already looking up in Ellicott City. Many have established online presences that they did not have before, and have the inviting brick and mortar storefronts to match.
For many businesses affected by the storm, loans offered through the Maryland Business Recovery Loan Program were instrumental. The program has provided 28 loans since the flood. The department still has available funds and is accepting additional applications from businesses in Ellicott City.* Housing assistance was also offered to residents displaced by the flood. Through the Maryland Disaster Housing Assistance Program, the department assisted 27 families and offered nearly $86,000 in emergency rental assistance. Additionally, through the Maryland Housing Rehabilitation Program, $307,657 was issued to Ellicott City residents for home repairs.
Jason Barnes, the owner of All Time Toys, had only taken over ownership of the store two months before the flood hit. Everything from fixtures in the store to items available for purchase were completely destroyed, and Barnes was left in a tight spot.
“It basically saved me,” Barnes said of the Maryland Business Recovery Loan he received from the department. “I put every cent I had in, and then…the flood happened, and that completely wiped me. The loan basically allowed me to wade out, do the repairs, and restore my inventory. It gave me a fighting chance to come back.”
All told, Barnes said it took “just shy of six months” to get back up and running completely. He was fortunate to have most of the damage limited to the basement: the area where customers shop was in need of some repairs, but not nearly as many. Now that business as usual has resumed, Barnes said he’s noticed his sales have been “better than ever.”
“It’s definitely a success story so far,” Barnes said.
*For Ellicott City businesses interested in participating in the Maryland Business Recovery Loan Program, contact Aisha Taylor, Loan Underwriter, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 301-429-7721.
“Main Attractions” is a regular series highlighting Main Street Maryland communities. Main Street Maryland is a comprehensive downtown revitalization program created in 1998 by the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. These communities receive assistance for improving the economy, appearance and image of their traditional downtown business districts. For more information on Main Street Maryland, visit http://dhcd.maryland.gov/Communities/Pages/programs/MainStreet.aspx.