When Hurricane Katrina struck on Aug. 29 last year, Joe Krivanec was about to open his third automotive service location in the Biloxi area.
Joe's Garage (East), in Gautier, Miss., was slated to open in early September, just a few weeks after Katrina hit. Those plans were halted when the storm destroyed the entire south end of the building and blew off seven bay doors, Mr. Krivanec said. Offices also were heavily damaged along with service equipment, delaying the store opening until Jan. 1.
The Gautier location took longer to repair after the storm than it did to build from the ground up, he said, mostly because the few contractors left in town were so overloaded with work.
While one of his outlets-Joe's Garage (West) in Biloxi-sustained some roof damage from tree limbs, the storm wiped out Mr. Krivanec's downtown Biloxi location, the dealership's original store opened by his father in 1947. The lot has since been cleared but its status is up in the air.
On the bright side, despite the property damage, all of his employees survived the storm, most of his tire stock was spared and none of his stores was looted, he said.
In addition to being a full-service automotive shop, the dealership sells Bridgestone, Firestone, Goodyear, General and Peerless tires.
Recovery efforts from one of the worst natural disasters in U.S. history are ongoing. While area businesses try to establish a sense of normalcy, Mr. Krivanec said many business owners find themselves faced with challenges including the lack of employees in the Biloxi area.
``The employee situation is awful,'' he said, adding that nearly every store in town has a ``Help Wanted'' sign in the window. ``The Wal-Mart can only stay open 'til one o'clock,'' because there aren't enough employees to run it 24 hours a day.
It has a lot to do with residents who did not return to Biloxi after the storm because of the lack of housing. ``If somebody comes here, there is no place for them to live,'' he said.
Mr. Krivanec, however, did not have a problem finding employees. He actually had to let five go since he was operating only two rather than three stores.
The price of property in Biloxi also has skyrocketed, making it difficult for new businesses to open.
``Anything commercial has just doubled in price,'' Mr. Krivanec said. Still, he hopes eventually to rebuild a third store to replace the one he lost.
Something positive did come out of Hurricane Katrina, Mr. Krivanec said: His business has improved.
``It's busy. Business is better than it used to be,'' he said, mainly because some area automotive competitors were wiped out by the storm, and victims of Katrina have been spending money they were given by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
``How long it's going to last, we don't know,'' he said. ``FEMA money is starting to run out.''