MACON, Ga.-The flooding in south Georgia in the wake of Tropical Storm Alberto couldn't have come at a worse time for tire dealers-during the busiest season of the year. And the flooding was particularly devastating to Raffield Tire Master, whose largest retail store, in Macon, suffered nearly $93,000 in equipment and vehicle damage and another $30,000 in lost sales.
Volume Tire Co. Inc., a Macon-based wholesaler with four retail stores, suffered no physical damage from the deluge that began July 4. ``But our distribution network is totally disrupted,'' said CFO Bill Griffin, as the floods cut off many of the firm's 1,000 wholesale customers.
Most tire dealerships escaped flood damage by virtue of their locations on high ground, according to Georgia Tire Dealers & Retreaders Association Executive Director Lyndy Bryant.
But with many residents suffering losses of homes and property, the disaster is expected to have a broad economic impact.
Raffield Tire Master's Rocky Creek Road store in Macon is near the edge of a creek that overflowed July 5. The water rose two feet inside the 12-bay store, covering the seats of chairs in the waiting room, before receding July 6.
The store and its equipment were mired in mud, silt and oil; 15 customers' vehicles on the lot were deemed totalled; and all saturated auto parts had to be pitched, according to co-owner Sam Raffield.
The store was closed for four days during the flooding and cleanup. That closure hurt the 31-year-old dealership, which operates two other stores, a commercial truck center and retread shop.
``It impacts you so badly when a store is down during peak season,'' Mr. Raffield said. He estimated the store lost $7,500 in sales each day it was closed.
In addition, many of the employees, who normally had a 30-minute drive to work, faced a four-hour detour due to closed roads and bridges.
The company had garagekeeper's liability insurance to cover the $45,000 worth of customers' vehicles damaged on the lot. But like other businesses in the community, Raffield Tire had no flood insurance. The dealership is hoping to receive federal disaster relief funds to cover its losses.
As of July 18, Raffield Tire and the rest of Macon were still without running water, but the shop was busy with mechanical service on bare-necessity items, such as brakes. Tire sales, however, have dropped off significantly.
Sales also have suffered at Volume Tire, which operates a warehouse and four retail stores as Pro Tire & Fleet Service.
When the flooding began, authorities forced the dealership to close for a couple of days.
On July 15, the Volume Tire wholesale division was able to resume deliveries to some dealerships as roads opened up.
``The customers we can get to, we're servicing,'' Mr. Griffin said. But ``we're doing half (the business) we normally do and that's going to hurt.''
About 40 percent of Volume Tire's market is in the swamped southern part of the state.
Bill and Evelyn Thompson, owners of Bill Thompson Tire Service Inc. in Albany, counted themselves fortunate to escape damage as well.
The Flint River, which runs through Albany, crested around 42 feet, more than 20 feet above flood level.
The Thompsons evacuated their home July 7 and returned a week later to find it undamaged, but neighboring houses in low-lying terrain were submerged, Mrs. Thompson said. Bill Thompson Tire has been servicing commercial accounts since reopening July 11, but has had almost no retail business, she added.
Meanwhile, water came within about 20 feet of the door at Macon County Tire Service on the outskirts of Montezuma, where the downtown was nearly wiped out.
Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.'s tire plant in Albany maintained relatively normal operations during the flood, but many of its 500 employees missed a few days of work.