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Ellicott City’s ‘Main Street is just destroyed’

Su Casa, a furniture story on Main Street was mostly spared in the storm. Most neighboring stores were severely damaged. (submitted photo)

Su Casa, a furniture story on Main Street in Ellicott City, was mostly spared in Saturday’s storm. Most neighboring stores were severely damaged. (submitted photo)

As emergency crews went in and out of Ellicott City’s Main Street on Monday, John Shoemaker was standing outside up the hill, surveying the damage from afar. He was typing on his phone, giving updates to other business owners.

Shoemaker’s family owns Shoemaker Country on Main Street and, as of midday Monday, he still did not know the condition of his furniture store following the flash flood Saturday that killed two people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damages to businesses and homes along the historic thoroughfare.

Residents and business owners were not allowed back into their homes and stores as emergency crews tried to clean up streets caked with mud. Red Cross workers handed out water and sandwiches to workers and residents who could not get back to their homes.

While he’s eager to see his store, Shoemaker said he was fine with waiting while recovery efforts were underway.

“It’s fair to give them time to get the job done,” he said.

John Shoemaker, who runs furniture Shoemaker Country on Main Streets points to a water line in his basement, which had seven feet of water after Saturday’s flash flood. (The Daily Record/Anamika Roy)

John Shoemaker, who runs furniture store Shoemaker Country on Main Streets ,points to a water line in his basement, which had 7 feet of water after Saturday’s flash flood. (The Daily Record/Anamika Roy)

Shoemaker also lives on Main Street. He and his neighbors thought they were experiencing a bad storm Saturday night when they began noticing water rushing down Main Street like a river.

He and his wife went to their basement and saw that it had begun to flood. They started grabbing items to bring upstairs. In the time they could get an armful of belongings, the water quickly rose, ultimately filling the basement with seven feet of water. In those moments, it went from “Wow, this is a lot of rain, to this is going to be bad,” said Shoemaker.

‘My heart breaks’

Standing behind a gaggle of TV cameras trying to catch a glimpse of Main Street on Monday was Nicholas Johnson, owner of Su Casa, another downtown furniture store. Johnson was escorted to his store Sunday by BGE workers who wanted to check a power line, one of a fortunate few who was able to see the damage firsthand. Johnson was at Su Casa’s Delaware store Saturday night and did not realize how bad the storm was until he got a call from an employee at the Ellicott City store who was able to get out safely.

Su Casa only got a few inches of water and mud in its store, just enough damage that Johnson wants to start mitigating it as soon as possible. Johnson was one of the lucky ones, as many surrounding businesses will need a lot more time to recover.

“We don’t know how and why we were spared,” said Johnson. “My heart breaks for every business owner on that street.”

Alan Fishbein, whose law office is on Main Street, said Monday morning he still didn’t know the extent of the damage to his firm’s building because the area was cordoned off.

“We’ve seen some video of the building on television, and it doesn’t look like it’s grossly damaged, but we don’t know if there’s water in the building,” he said. Since the electricity has been shut off, water damage could quickly result in mold, which is a major concern, he added.

Fishbein said a friend has offered the firm office space in Columbia to use temporarily, and because the firm’s office telephone number was set over the weekend to forward calls to his cellphone, the attorneys are easily reachable by clients.

“It’s very difficult to plan, because we don’t know when we can even get in to see what the damage is,” he said. “It’s a very difficult situation, and it’s very fluid, no pun intended. But clearly the infrastructure is gone; Main Street is just destroyed.”

Close-knit community

As befits its name, Main Street is known for its quaint shops, restaurants and as a social center for the city.

“It’s a close-knit town that brings a lot of people from the area to it,” said Shoemaker, who is also housing a woman who was trapped in her home on Main Street during the storm.

Shoemaker is among several downtown business owners who live nearby and walk to work.

Police have blocked off Main Street, only letting emergency crews through. (The Daily Record/ Anamika Roy)

Police have blocked off Main Street in Ellicott City, only letting emergency crews through. (The Daily Record/ Anamika Roy)

Many of those people spent Sunday cleaning up their homes, surveying damage as much as they could. They spent the evening reminiscing about times spent watching movies outside at the Wine Bin and getting dinner downtown.

“It’s amazing all that is going to be on hold for a while,” said Shoemaker.

Maryland Department of Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn said Monday his agency is helping remove debris from Main Street even though it is not a state-maintained thoroughfare. State inspectors are expected to review the structural safety of both the automobile bridge that connects Main Street to Route 144 as well as a bridge used by trains. A spokeswoman for the agency said Monday afternoon that both bridges remain closed to traffic.

Shoemaker Country has been on Main Street since 2001 and has a separate production facility in Howard County.

Shoemaker’s primary concern is filling special orders and assessing the damage to those items. He’s expecting most of the damage to be on the first floor of his two-story store, which he manages with his brother.

While Shoemaker hopes foot traffic will return once Main Street reopens, he is worried losing business until then.

Johnson, from Su Casa, is also concerned about not getting people in his store for the near future.

“We depend on that foot traffic,” he said.

Rebuilding begins

Thomas H. Maddux, principal at KLNBretail, said from a commercial real estate perspective, there’s no other option for business and property owners but to try to rebuild and recoup their investments. Condemning the properties and forcing businesses aren’t a real option, he said. The businesses and buildings have been viable commercial investments for a long time.

“It’s really an insurance question more than anything else,” Maddux said.

But rebuilding will take time. Clean-up efforts are still “premature,” as many business owners are still being contacted and the extent of damages isn’t quite known yet, said Howard County Chamber of Commerce President Leonardo McClarty.

“Right now they are continuing to do an assessment of damage, making sure gas mains and electricity are off,” he said. “To rebuild and so forth, that is certainly going to take time. People have to be ready for the marathon as opposed to the sprint.”

While many residents are eager to help by donating their time or equipment and goods, McClarty said county officials have directed the community to “sit tight.” However, the Community Action Council of Howard County is accepting donations to its food bank, and the local Red Cross is taking volunteers.

McClarty was confident Main Street will bounce back.

“I think when you look at historic Ellicott City, you don’t get the name ‘historic’ for nothing – it’s been around for centuries,” McClarty said. “It’s had its fair share of storms and natural phenomena.”

Daily Record reporters Adam Bednar, Andrea Cwieka, Lauren Kirkwood and Bryan P. Sears contributed to this article.