Residents already devastated by the April 10 tornado that ripped through the area now must deal with the storm’s aftermath slowing an already fragile economy.
Lincoln County had the 10th-highest unemployment rate in the state – 10.8 percent – before the storm struck. Then the tornado wiped out portions of the city’s industrial park, sparking layoffs and slowdowns. And residents who lost their entire homes aren’t out spending the way they normally would.
That leaves merchants hoping insurance checks arrive soon and work gets back to normal.
“The weather has killed our spring sales,” Tim Haight, owner of Merrill’s Ace Hardware, said. “At this time last year, we had the greenhouse going already.”
Haight already delayed his delivery of spring plants by a week, because of the double whammy of the tornado followed by more cold weather.
And popular spring items at the store on Main Street, such as fertilizer, lawn tools and paint buckets, sit on the shelves nearly untouched as victims and the community focus on relief efforts.
Similarly, the number of customers coming through the door has slipped sharply at Book World in Merrill since the storm.
“It was a noticeable decline in foot traffic and sales,” manager Theresa Garcia said.
But as the weeks go by, the bookstore is slowly returning to normal, Garcia said.
At Thelma’s clothing store, owner Sherry Kleinschmidt said she braced herself after the storm for a decline in sales.
“Even the people who weren’t affected, they are in the process of helping others clean up and help in getting things to normal,” Kleinschmidt said. “It affects the whole community.”
Many residents are spending their free time clearing debris from damaged property rather than shopping.
But some residents from outside of Merrill are coming to the city to shop as their own way of helping out, Kleinschmidt said.
In recent weeks, the clothing store has welcomed customers from surrounding communities who want to support Merrill’s economy, Kleinschmidt said.
Thelma’s is among the businesses participating in a fundraiser organized by the Merrill Area Chamber of Commerce. The chamber’s Tornado Relief Fund is collecting donations to help those who were affected by the storm.
The storm has brought badly needed business to a handful of merchants. First Street Coffee Station has experienced a spike in visitors.
Owner Dawn Swan said several residents who lost their homes used the coffee shop’s bathroom to get ready for work in the mornings the week after the tornado struck. And some of them grabbed a cup of joe at the same time.
And as the close-knit community rebuilds, the coffee shop is a place where folks come to support one another, Swan said.
“There’s definitely been a lot of stories flying around here. That’s for sure,” Swan said.
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