"We're all rubble," Charles Hungerford, 38, recalls saying after the storm. His grandfather, Arthur, started the business in 1921. Since then, it has seen its share of floods. But none had made sinkholes the size of craters until Gaston. "It was no different than if a bomb had been dropped," he says.
Like it did almost everywhere in the Bottom, the city condemned Hungerford for a few days. When the coast was clear, friends and family gave new meaning to Labor Day by working all weekend, around the clock, to get the place up and running again, Hungerford says.
But when outside assistance was sought, Hungerford came up short. With no flood liability insurance, Anderson looked into whatever federal, state and local support was available. He submitted a 20-plus-page application with plenty of pictures and figures documenting the damage in hopes of getting money from the Shockoe Relief Fund, administered by the city's Department of Economic Development.
Hungerford was denied. In the only call he received from the city following the flood, Anderson says, an employee with economic development told him the business didn't qualify because its revenues were too high. He says he wasn't told what the cap was, what businesses did qualify or what the criteria were to receive relief funds.
The thing is, nearly seven months later, Hungerford, by acting on its own, arguably is better off than many of its neighbors. Taking matters into its own hands and paying prime prices out of pocket to clean up the mess has meant it's been more or less business as usual despite losing dinosaur oil tanks and having to downsize storage capacity from 800,000 to 100,000 gallons. And only three of Hungerford's original nine trucks have been replaced.
"We're fine," Hungerford insists. "If it's hot or cold outside, we're in business." But it wouldn't be if something like Gaston struck again. The rainy-day fund is completely spent, he says. "It's an expense you don't want to incur, one you can only pay once in a lifetime."
The real rub from the flood runs deep, Hungerford and Anderson say.
"These little businesses are great," Anderson says of the restaurants and shops that received untold press and promises of assistance following the flood. "But if you look at the history of Richmond, it's the ones that have been here for generations, not months, ones like Lovings Produce and Hungerford, which have invested more in the city than the others combined."
"Growing up as a kid, this was my destiny," Hungerford says. "In summers I used to hang out down here. And my dad had life-long employees." The flood has caused him to rethink his destiny and whether to relocate the business and his own 22 employees elsewhere. "Unfortunately, we didn't get any funding, but we made it. Now we're curious to see what happens in Shockoe Bottom."
Anderson, Hungerford's general manager for nearly 20 years, says at this point he doesn't think it would be appropriate to "stand up and question our leaders" about what could have been offered to everybody in the Bottom. "The best thing the city can do for us is communicate," Anderson says. "We aren't going to reinvest in it if it doesn't want to invest in us. We've heard from nobody. Just to know where the money is would be extremely helpful."
Hungerford agrees. Destiny, it turns out, included a flood that would leave a mark, and not just the visible one Hungerford points out, where the water rose about three feet up his office wall. "Still to this day," he says, "we're standing by ourselves." S
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