Business owners after tornado damage: ‘We don’t know what to do here’

The industrial area of Old North Dayton normally is home to more than 10,000 jobs each working day, but the EF-4 Memorial Day tornado has displaced many of them.

Dozens of business owners on Monday came to the Greater Old North Dayton Business Association (GONDBA) meeting, looking for answers, help and support.

“We don’t know what to do here,” said Barry Hall, owner of Champion Auto Services, 1524 Milburn Ave. “But we need to know. Ten thousand people are employed in this area. This is the industrial heart of Dayton.”

No one knew Monday exactly how many workers have been displaced, but those there offered common needs for businesses: phone service, Internet access, power — and in some cases, a sheltered place to actually conduct their business.

It’s not just Old North Dayton, either. Businesses in Trotwood, Harrison Twp., Vandalia, Butler Twp. and Beavercreek also face rebuilding.

Toni Estevez, of Kap Signs, 1608 Kuntz Ave., said the company’s 15 employees are looking for a temporary place to go on doing business.

The business lost its roof and much else in the late-night May 27 tornadoes strike. Estevez said nearby Allied Fence Builders put a protective fence around Kap’s damaged property, an example of how businesses are often working together in the aftermath of the storms.

“I was inconvenienced,” Hall told Estevez. “You guys were destroyed.”

At least 15 tornadoes, ranging in strength from EF-0 to EF-4, were confirmed in Montgomery, Auglaize, Darke, Greene and Mercer counties. A Celina man was the lone death.

“We know this is going to take months,” Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley told GONDBA members meeting at the Ronald McDonald House near Dayton Children’s Hospital. “For some people, their lives will never be the same.”

Mary Faulkner, a senior development specialist for the city, said immediate business needs included generators, power, Internet access and much more. She said Spectrum was allowing customers with passwords to devise a workaround, sending business phone calls to personal cell phones, when possible.

Most of the entrepreneurs with whom she has spoken have insurance, Faulkner said.

“So far, everyone I’ve talked to are getting what they need,” she said. “They are functioning.”

Neither Whaley nor Faulkner could estimate how many people are out of work as result of the tornadoes.

Hall, who serves as president of GONDBA, said these problems will not be solved in two or three weeks.

“We have a whole lot of employees who are displaced,” Hall said. “What are we going to do with them?”

Lion Apparel, 66 Janney Road, and a Frito-Lay distribution center off Troy Street were especially damaged in the storm. A message seeking comment was sent to Frito Lay.

Jamie Coch, a spokesman for Lion, said the company will need to determine its next steps over the next 30 days.

“But we are committed to the area,” he said.

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At this point, leaders of Lion need to hear from structural engineers about the facility’s condition and prospects.

The nearly 40 employees of the affected facility will be paid for June, and Lion said it will direct those workers to other areas of the company. The company also has operations in Kentucky, so customers shouldn’t see an interruption in service.

“The good news for us is all of our employees are accounted for and safe,” Coch said.

Holly Allen, marketing director for the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, said U.S. Small Business Administration representatives will meet with chamber officials Wednesday to discuss possible loans or other recovery tools. She also directed businesses to the disaster relief page at, which she said is updated daily.

Allen said the chamber is also trying to gather human resources information from affected businesses.

Andy Sedlak, a spokesman for BarryStaff, said the firm is offering space for displaced entrepreneurs at its 230 Webster St. offices.

Residents in the hard-hit Old North area are also struggling. They need ice, underwear, toilet paper, toothpaste and toothbrushes, said Derek Trenum, pastor of Victory Temple in Fairborn, whose members were delivering hot meals to residents along Kelly Avenue on Monday.

While people appear to have plenty of bottled water, they have no way to keep that water cold, Trenum said. “Ice is the thing a lot of people are saying they need,” he said.

“As nasty a thing as this is, they seem to be in pretty good spirits,” Trenum said of residents he has encountered.

“I need a home,” said Lawrence Whitmer, who lived on Kelly before the Memorial Day tornadoes. “I’m living in a hotel.”

Whaley said the city is asking residents to separate debris for pick-up in four ways — “green debris,” trash, tires and metals.

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