September 2, 2017 / 4:04 PM / 23 days ago

Houston's small businesses dig out from Harvey's onslaught

HOUSTON (Reuters) - Josh Beasley and his fiancé bought Houston’s Body3 Personal Fitness on July 1, less than two months before Tropical Storm Harvey swamped the gym with a foot of water and left behind the dank stench of fetid mildew.

Wading into the Stygian dark of the powerless gym on Sunday, the day after the storm hit, Beasley said he was overwhelmed by the looming cleanup and repair. He estimated it could cost up to $35,000.

“To walk in and see all that water was just devastating,” said Beasley, 38, as industrial fans dried the 6,700-square-foot (622 square-meter) complex in the city’s Oak Forest neighborhood. “But as small business owners who depend on this place for our livelihood, we have to rebuild.”

About 99 percent of the companies in Houston are considered small businesses in a region with a gross domestic product (GDP) of more than $315 billion, according to U.S. government data. They face a long, expensive road to recovery with only a fraction of the resources of the state’s massive oil and medical industries.

Small business often lack large cash reserves, and the loss of income from having to shut down temporarily, or move to another location, can be serious threats.

Many small business owners said in interviews they would rebuild in Harvey’s wake. They hoped disaster assistance from the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), which has offered low-interest loans, would cover some costs.

Josh Beasley, 38, points to damaged equipment and material ripped out of his gym after flooding by Tropical Storm Harvey in Houston, Texas, U.S. September 1, 2017. Photo taken September 1, 2017. REUTERS/Ernest Scheyder

The National Flood Insurance Program, the only source of flood insurance for most Americans, offers coverage to businesses. But many small businesses, like Beasley‘s, go without such insurance unless their mortgages or leases require it.

Even businesses that have not sustained physical damage may take a hit if employees cannot get to work.

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Hollywood Hair and Nail Salon, in Houston’s Montrose neighborhood, was closed for days after Harvey’s floodwaters hit the region. But owner Reza Nouri said he wouldn’t let that stop him from doing his work: He offered free hair cuts at Houston’s storm evacuee shelters.

“Cutting hair for these storm victims was the least I could do to help as a small business owner,” said Nouri, 37.

At Body3 gym, a platoon of 20 friends and customers helped rip out molding carpet and drywall. Beasley hopes to re-open as soon as next week in a bare-bones setting.

“We’re a gym,” he said. “Our clients don’t need fancy walls.”

Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Houston; Additional reporting by Suzanne Barlyn in New York; Editing by David Gregorio

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