Some businesses moved on after tornadoes; others say ‘future is very, very bright’

It’s been almost three years since Christy Fox got a phone call overnight that her Dayton-Phoenix manufacturing plant was damaged by a tornado. Her initial goal was to close for a day, repair what needed to be fixed and get back to work.

“They sent us pictures during the night and it was really dark so all you could really see was there were some holes in the brick wall so we were like, all right we can do that,” Fox, the chief executive officer of Dayton-Phoenix, told the Dayton Daily News.

“But then we pulled up that next morning and it was devastating. Pictures could never tell the story of what we saw. It looked like a war zone,” she said.

It instead turned into a multiple-year ordeal that saw the company virtually rebuild the 650,000 square-foot freight locomotive plant on Kuntz Road in Old North Dayton.

“The first year was just demolition. We had to tear down all the walls and replace the roof; everything was destroyed,” Fox said, adding that the company began working at two sites — using about 25% of the Kuntz Road site that was operational and at a temporary site in Vandalia.

But it was all worth it, Fox said. The company employs more than 300 workers and there was never a question as to whether Dayton-Phoenix was going to return to the city, she said. The company just recently installed its last machine back into the plant.

“We survived the tornado, our last piece of equipment is up and running, all of our employees are back from the temporary facility, we just had a great customer visit and have had some other customers come in and they are really impressed from what they see,” Fox said. “So our future is very, very bright.”

“It was destroyed completely”

About 15 tornadoes touched down in the Dayton region on the evening of May 27, 2019, and more than 2,000 structures were destroyed or left uninhabitable in Montgomery County. One of those tornados tore through North Dayton, demolishing or damaging manufacturing plants.

David Blang, owner of KAP Signs, said his building was hit hard.

“It was destroyed completely,” Blang said. “They ended up bulldozing the whole thing down and planting grass.”

He said in the days after the storm, his employees came out to help and he was fortunate that some interior components of the building, like its computers, were salvageable. But it was clear no signs were going to be made at the site, and Blang had to quickly find a new place to operate.

The company decided to move to Webster Street in Vandalia. Much of the moving expenses were covered by insurance, and Blang decided to make it a permanent change.

“We had spent so much time getting moved once, and I knew we wouldn’t have gotten help to move back, so it just seemed like the right thing to do,” Blang said. “I liked the area that we were in and obviously owning your own building is nice, but I was able to sell it after they (demolished) the whole building and cleaned it up …”

He noted that some businesses in Old North Dayton stayed but others moved, depending on their situations. He said the sign company is fully operational and doing well at its new location.

Some companies, like Dayton-Phoenix, decided to rebuild in Old North Dayton while other companies, like FritoLay, decided to move out of town but stay in the area, said Barry Hall, president of the Greater Old North Dayton Association. He said before the tornado, the Old North Dayton area was thriving.

“And then bam, it wiped out a lot of businesses,” he said.

The future of Old North Dayton remains unclear, Hall said, but there are bright spots.

The City of Dayton said that Miami Valley Packaging Solutions on Janney Road had major building damage after the tornado but has rebuilt its 103,770 square-foot building. Lion First Responder, also on Janney Road, lost 75% of its building five days after their ribbon cutting, the city said, and held a second ribbon-cutting in August 2020 for the rebuilt 55,000 square-foot building.

Hyland Machine, on Kuntz Road, also suffered major damage, the city said, and completely rebuilt and recently purchased new equipment.

“The ones who stayed and survived are thriving, but a lot of them didn’t stay,” Hall said.

“I still think we are in the process of rebuilding,” said Steve Gaytko, the treasurer of the association. “There were a number of residences that were destroyed also, some of which still haven’t come back at this point in time.”

Becky Gaytko, who is married to Steve and involved in the association, said businesses who were impacted had to make a tough decision about how to move forward quickly.

“Normally they would do an analysis as to whether this is the right location or if we move what would be the best location, (but) it was seat-of-the-pants decisions because everybody was in crisis.”

“We’re blessed”

Joe Castellano, the owner of Amber Rose Restaurant on Valley Street, said his business was closed for three to four weeks after the tornado because of the lack of electrical power and having to make repairs to the roof and windows.

He said he learned the importance of taking things one step at a time.

“Let’s clean up,” he said of the mindset after the tornado. “This is what we have to do today to get to tomorrow.”

“We have a tremendous community here in Dayton coming down and helping us clean up,” he said. “The amount of debris and trash, you see pictures on TV but until you actually see what a tornado can do and how thick and twisted trees get, and everything had this vegetative film, everything had to be cleaned.”

He said the effects of the tornado and the pandemic that took place soon after did take their toll, but the business is fortunate to have a loyal customer base.

“Initially when we reopened (after the tornado), business was very strong because this area was in the news so people wanted to see and hear about it and came down,” Castellano said. “With some of the manufacturing companies leaving the area, that has definitely impacted our lunch business a little bit, but that’s a little hard to quantify because less than a year later the pandemic happened and that really shut things.”

He said the experiences were shocking but Amber Rose has recovered.

“The community really came together ...” Castellano said. “People really supported us the best they could doing carry-out, and once we got back open, business has really come back since the tornado and the pandemic. We’re blessed.”

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