Bar owner Scott Coleman once had no problem giving money away. But that was before the flood.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that when a regular walked into his Some Other Place Bar and Grill after disappearing for a few days, Coleman asked him why. His house had burned down.
Coleman talked to his wife, then wrote the man a check for more than $700.
“I don’t care what you do with the money,” he told the man. “You can go out and buy your wife a nice dinner if you want.”
In the two months since the flood of 2015, the tables have turned for Missouri business owners like Coleman, many of whom still need a hand to get flood-damaged establishments up and running again.
Those like Coleman, who have invested their lives in family-run ventures embedded into community life, wait nervously and with a tinge of frustration as they begin another month with zero income.
They’re waiting to see if the federal government will help them resurrect their only source of income. They’re deciding if they should give up and leave their hopes behind.
Coleman is at this crossroads. His bar was the only business in Jefferson County that was classified as “destroyed.”
In a way, the restaurant next to the old Springdale pool on Highway 141 was a nexus of community life. The RC Freaks Club for underprivileged children, the poker club, and both the Midnight Riders and Iron Aces bike clubs convened there.
Coleman held parties and little festivals on the patio in the back – games, dessert raffles, auctions, concerts, costume contests, something for pretty much every major holiday. The money was often raised solely to help pay the bills of people like the man with the burned house, or the mother of two who was dying of leukemia.
Fifteen feet of water washed it away. The water lifted the hood system from the kitchen and sandwiched it between a wall and the roof.
Coleman thinks it will take him $80,000 just to fix the building, then at least an additional $150,000 to replace everything inside. Like many, he had no flood insurance.
Other business owners who suffered less damage than him have moved on and are cleaning up shop. Coleman won’t; he had too many plans for this acre of Fenton.
“We’ve got so many dreams back there,” he said.
Coleman’s hopes are hanging on a loan from the Small Business Administration, the other disaster aid giant alongside the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
On Monday, the region’s two remaining disaster recovery centers in Arnold and Pacific will transition from being FEMA centers to SBA centers as federal officials transition from delivering immediate grant aid to focusing on longer-term recovery.
The deadline to apply for any federal aid, from FEMA or SBA, is nearing on March 21.
Unlike homeowners or renters, business owners only get one type of aid. They can apply for loans from the SBA, which offers disaster aid business loans of up to $2 million with a 4 percent interest rate and 30-year repayment period.
Those loans can pay for fixing up a building, replacing lost equipment or goods, making up for income lost or, in rarer cases, moving and starting over, though that’s not the agency’s ideal.
“We don’t want everybody packing up and moving. The idea is to replace that damaged property,” said Roger Busch, SBA spokesman.
The SBA has doled out $8.7 million in loans since President Barack Obama declared the flood a federal disaster, Busch said Friday.
But more than 70 percent of that was not for business owners. It was for homeowners and renters, who can get 1.6 percent interest rate loans from SBA. About 181 homeowner and renter loans were approved as of Friday, Busch said.
Aid to business owners has been slower to roll out. The agency has granted 17 loans worth $2.5 million to businesses across Missouri, Busch said. He expects those numbers to rise in the coming weeks.
The agency has gotten more than 500 loan applications from Missouri as of this week, he said.
The wait and red tape are frustrating some business owners.
Mark Sieh, whose Babs Lane mobile home park was soaked and then pocked with mold, is waiting for more than an SBA loan. It wasn’t worth trying to resurrect the park, so he’s putting together a bid to Jefferson County to open an RV park elsewhere in the county. He hopes the county will hear his request this month.
Sieh says he knows nothing about RVs – “I don’t even know how to hook up an RV” – but at least when the next flood comes, his tenants can flee with their homes.
“I don’t emotionally want to go through this with anybody else,” he said. “Probably $300,000-plus of financial wealth is gone, but the emotional toll has been terrible.”
Coleman’s been waiting a month to hear whether he will get a loan. He’s frustrated – a new delay in his application seems to surface every few days.
“It’s like, ‘Have you helped anybody really?”‘ he wonders. “It’s a disaster, man. We’re supposed to be getting help from them.”
Coleman thinks he can still hold a fireworks night behind the restaurant, one summer. There can still be a monster truck show, eventually. He can still reopen the landmark Springdale Pool, one day.
A nine-hour fundraiser his staff put together last weekend netted $7,500. Coleman’s dreams are just $225,000 away.
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