Hurricane Irene Affects East Coast Jewelers



Hurricane Irene blew through the East Coast this past weekend, disrupting local businesses from North Carolina to upper New England. Jewelry retailers throughout the region are shaking off the storm’s effects and attempting to get back to business as usual. Several took time out of their clean up efforts to talk to JCK.

A jeweler in Nags Head, N.C., made the difficult decision to stay put as opposed to evacuate in the face of the hurricane’s imminent landfall.

“I’m just not accustomed to leaving because I feel more nervous leaving than staying,” Gail E. Kowalski, owner and designer of Jewelry by Gail, tells JCK. “The weather reporting was right on target with what to expect, so we made the decision to stay.”

Kowalski took every precaution to ensure that her store was hurricane ready. She made sure that the store’s three safes were stuffed with as much valuable inventory as possible, including the day’s usual inventory as well as equipment from her design workshop. She unplugged all of her electrical appliances to protect the store from surges, and made sure the battery backup on the alarm system was working. The store also put up aluminum-corrugated covers on all the windows. Thanks to these efforts, as well as a favorable storm path, she says that her store escaped any serious damage. However, the store’s sign was felled by the storm and will require significant repairs. Power was out for less than a day.

Kowalski says that Irene headed up the backside of the Outer Banks, which saved the oceanfront beaches from bearing the brunt of the storm’s fury. Much of the devastating damage, Kowalski says, occurred in the area facing Albemarle Sound, where many of the owners of businesses on the ocean side of the peninsula live. “Visitors are returning to the area, but are upset because most of the businesses are still closed,” Kowalski says. “It’s frustrating not being able to provide them with the services that they’re used to right away.”

Currently, Kowalski’s staff is working on cleaning up the salty film that covered the store as a result of ocean winds. They are also in the process of emptying all of the safes. “We were very lucky and very blessed,” she says.

Joseph Marino, managing partner of B & A Jewelers in Staten Island, N.Y., was also relatively fortunate. The storm only lightly affected his store and home, which lost power for 48 hours. On Saturday, his busiest day of the week, he closed the shop three hours early at 3 p.m. He also instructed his alarm company to install fresh batteries in his security system, make sure transfer switches were working should generator power be tapped, and test digital communicators such as non-telephone lines to police and fire to be sure authorities could be reached in the event of an emergency. “Residents were aware the hurricane was on its way and did very little jewelry and watch shopping that day,” he says.

The contents of his store’s basement—a number of oversize display pieces—were placed on skids, keeping them safe from the several inches of rain that penetrated the building. Unlike surrounding businesses—restaurants, banks, and a car dealership—many of which suffered water damage on their rooftops, Marino’s remained intact. “We just put a new roof on. Thank God nothing was able to penetrate it,” he says. Power stayed on inside his shop, located on a tree-lined street a quarter of a mile from a beach where homeowners were forced to evacuate.

Marino reopened the store this morning, giving employees an extra day to safely navigate downed power lines and messy mass transit scenarios, and to clean up their own dwellings. Shortly after opening, one of Marino’s best customers stopped in to pick up a repair, and to check on the jeweler; he learned that the client’s own basement was still submerged in three feet of water. “There are still about 5,800 people without power here on Staten Island,” he adds.

The owner of Renaissance Fine Jewelry in Brattleboro, Vt., took several precautions that prevented her store from suffering more significant damage, as seen in the rest of the town.

“We just bought a new bank building where we’ll be moving our new store, and I had masons come out and make sure that all the chimneys were reinforced and any openings from the new pipes were sealed,” says Caitlyn Wilkinson. “I’m so glad I made that investment so that we didn’t have to worry about anything.”

Wilkinon says that the rest of the businesses in town weren’t as lucky. She explained that not many business had flood insurance, so any damage done was likely to be costly.

“It’s been a tough year for Brattleboro,” she says. “But the town has done an amazing job in helping to clean up.” She says that Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy held meetings in town recently to determine what else the town needed. For her part, Wilkinson is planning to run several fundraisers out of her store to aid local business.

Cassie Tran, manager of Peridot Fine Jewelry in Greenwich, Conn., was also able to avoid much of the damage that her waterfront neighbors endured. Her shop is located inland from the Long Island Sound. Tran says power never went off in the store though it is still down in her home. The shop also didn’t take in any water or sustain other damage, but on Saturday, in preparation for the storm, it closed two hours early at 3:30 p.m., reopening Tuesday morning (the store is routinely closed on Sundays and Mondays). Tran and staffers also took down their store sign hanging outside and took in potted plants and outside furniture so items wouldn’t blow away. “It’s a mess to drive around, there are leaves and branches everywhere,” says Tran. “But the businesses in our area are largely unaffected.”

On Sunday, she drove to nearby Riverview, which was hit hard. “Most roads were blocked and the river was overflowing like Niagara Falls,” Tran says.

Lux, Bond & Green, with stores located in Connecticut and Massachusetts, only experienced an extended power outage in their Glastonbury, Conn., location. Store manager Dave Campbell tells JCK that power was restored early Tuesday afternoon.

“Now that power is back, we’re open and fully operational,” says Campbell.