The parking lot for the Shoppes at Fairfield Commons was not quite as full Friday as it was on a typical business day before the Memorial Day tornado. But businesses have opened after months of repairs, and shop keepers are waiting for customers to return.
Aldi, which reopened in August, was one of the first businesses in the shopping center to welcome customers. The grocery store took the brunt of the 150-plus mph winds that shattered glass windows, sent construction materials flying and embedded rocks in the nearby former Abuelo’s restaurant, which the El Toro restaurant chain is renovating.
At least three businesses in the shopping plaza have reopened this month, including Aqua-Tots Swim School, Luminous Nail Spa and Hobby Lobby. The public will have an opportunity to celebrate and support the businesses during a Fall Festival from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday.
“We had more people out for our second grand opening than we had at the first,” said Aqua-Tots Owner Paul Sinopoli.
Like many businesses in that area of North Fairfield Road, Aqua-Tots is young. The tornado struck in their third year of operations. Prior to the storm, they were growing with 15% profit in the second year, Sinopoli said. At an estimated cost of $225,000 to rebuild and restock damaged inventory, Sinopoli said their customer-base now is at 50% where it was last year.
“We have been rebuilding clientele,” he said. “We’ve had great community support and chamber support. We estimated it would take three to six months to have the doors back open. It took us about four months.”
Aqua-Tots is among many of the businesses in the Shoppes at Fairfield Commons that have other nearby locations.
Jessica Swaney said she had just started swim classes for her daughter Parker a week before the tornado struck. She drove to the Aqua-Tots Springboro location for classes while the Beavercreek location was closed.
“Our plan had been ‘Oh, swim lessons and grocery shopping’ since Aldi was on the corner, but then the tornado happened,” Swaney said. “It’s nice to come to swim lessons again and hit the errands that we need to hit.”
Petland reopened shortly after Aldi at the end of August. Despite rebuilding the store and rescuing a multitude of animals the night of the storm, including puppies, bunnies, birds and snakes, the biggest challenge is letting people know the store is back open, District Manager Chrissy Downs said.
“It’s a struggle. We’ve been putting flyers on cars. Sign-shaking, marketing through social media. It’s been the most difficult part of this,” Downs said.
The store manager was monitoring the security cameras the night of the storm, Downs said. When they went out, he drove to the store. With help from other employees and volunteers, Downs said they rescued dozens of animals. One of the volunteers that night earned a puppy and was recently hired to work at the Petland Beavercreek store, she said.
“We’re so excited to be back opened and to share our pets with the community,” she said. “We welcome people to come in and play with them.”
Saturday’s festival will encompass the entire shopping area, but in previous years it was an event sponsored and organized by Aqua-Tots. The property’s landlord with Baker Storey McDonald Properties is getting all the businesses involved and making arrangement for the food trucks,said Beavercreek Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Amanda Byers.
The chamber doled out nearly $13,000 in grants to businesses that were impacted by the tornado. Aqua-Tots was one of the grant recipients. Byers said many businesses are working to return to pre-storm business activity, but it takes “baby steps.”
“When you open, you have to take baby steps in growth,” Byers said. “Sometimes it’s hard for bank accounts to understand that.”
Other businesses are still in the rebuilding process, and have yet to reopen, including Mike’s Car Wash. The property is completely fenced in and packed with construction equipment and materials. Mike’s Car Wash recently held a second ground-breaking ceremony. Byers said they’re using the rebuilding process as an opportunity to upgrade the store.
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“You see the excitement behind the businesses reopening. Some took the opportunity to make some changes that they wanted to do,” Byers said. “The businesses have seen the community rally behind them from hour one. They know that will happen going forward. It’s just like opening a new business. You’ve got to rebuild that client base.”
Beavercreek City Manager Pete Landrum said representative from the Federal Emergency Management Agency were in town last week and are now assisting in the process of applying for reimbursements and dealing with the mountains of yard debris that are stored at the Greene County Environmental Center in Xenia and at the Cemex Park in Fairborn.
“We have a bid out for the mulching and removal and bids are due by the end of the month, so we expect to reward the contract sometime in November, hopefully,” Landrum said.
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