Month after Durham explosion, nearby businesses hope Mother's Day, graduations bring customers

Posted May 10, 2019 8:29 p.m. EDT

— A gas line west of downtown Durham exploded a month ago Friday, rocking the warehouse district, killing two people and injuring dozens more.

Since then, businesses in nearby Brightleaf Square have had a month of declining sales.

"It's really tough," said Doug Hahn, who owns Details, a shop that sells jewelry, purses, and home goods.

Hahn said people incorrectly assumed shops were closed after the explosion or that parking would be tough because part of North Duke Street was closed and some areas were off-limits.

"Probably about 45 percent," he said when asked how much his sales are off. "Some days even more."

With Mother's Day and college graduations this weekend, Hahn and other business owners are hopeful for a boost.

"It's typically the biggest weekend as far as hospitality goes, other than Christmas," said Julie Steinhauer, who owns Bull City Olive Oil.

Steinhauer said her sales haven't been affected by the explosion, but she feels for her neighbors whose were.

Saint James Seafood restaurant on West Main Street was booked for the whole weekend – people started making reservations in January, owner Matt Kelly said – but the building was so damaged by the explosion that it remains condemned.

As a result, Kelly said he's missing out on "the biggest, by far" weekend of the year.

"We did the best we could making sure we could find people reservations at our other restaurants, other neighborhood and local restaurants,” he said.

Kelly said he plans to reopen in the same location but has no idea when that will be.

"We’re just trying to figure out how to navigate and see what the options are," he said. "Nothing could prepare me for this. To this day, as I wake up, nothing prepares me for how I wake up now and how I woke up three weeks ago."

Business owners said they hoping for plenty of visitors this weekend, like Jill Eckardt, in town from Texas for her daughter's Duke University graduation.

"People, when they're out of town having a good time, tend to be a little more free with their money," Hahn said.

"It would really mean the world to all of us, I think," Steinhauer said.