Small Businesses Help Grand Forks Heal
Posted October 27, 1999 7:00 a.m. EDT
GRAND FORKS, N.D. — In April of 1997, the Red River rose up, and nearly wiped out the entire city of Grand Forks, N.C. A few hardy souls worked hard and led the others toward recovery. Small business owners were the key to coming back From Hell and High Water.
George Widman will cover just about anything with chocolate: cranberries, olives, pickles, even jalapeno peppers.
But two and a half years ago, the Red River barged through Widman's front door and nearly covered his store. For three weeks, the candy store was under water. They worked every day for five months to reopen. They were the first.
Why? "First of all, I'm the Papa now," Widman says. "I'm the third generation."
Around the corner and up the street, The Red Geranium reopened about two months later. It was crucial to Grand Forks' comeback.
Owner Linda Magness says reopening the store was therapeutic for her. "Personally, I was recovered the day we opened the shop," she says.
Magness took all the help she could get. She sought out grants and SBA loans and armed herself with information. She says she will probably never get out of debt.
Widman financed his comeback a different way: sweat equity. He dipped into savings, leaned on family and friends, and in freezing cold weather, he rolled up his sleeves.
"I've got an electrician son-in-law. I've got a son who's in air conditioning. I just had to buy the stuff," Widman says.
Despite their different approaches to starting over, both say they put the people of Grand Forks above profits.
"It's for the community. Where are you going to find a candy maker?" Widman says. "We were the first guy to go, and we worked our can off, and they saw it. The people appreciate it."
And that appreciation means a lot when you consider the devastation people faced.
"The girl that works for me lost her home, that her family had been in," Magness says. "It's totally gone. Nothing can ever be rebuilt in that neighborhood. It's in the flood are, and the dike will be built there. So the tree she carved her name it, it's gone. And it's never ever going to be there. That kind of thing doesn't go away."
Both say their experience has taught them not to take living life to its fullest for granted.
"The good things are there," Magness says, like "the time you'll have with your kids. And they'll be reading books instead of watching TV because the TV got flooded, and you can't buy another one. All those things will be there. You just have to look for them. And you just have to accept the help that comes your way."
Linda Magness hopes she can break even after selling her shop when she retires.
George Widman spent close to $70,000 of his and his families' money to start over.