Florence Gave Charleston $65 Million Haircut

On a normal week in September, Danny Einhorn’s downtown bicycle shop is a hive of activity. Tourists come in looking for rentals, college students come in looking for an easier way to get to class, regulars come in for tune-ups during what’s often the best time of the year to ride.

But as Hurricane Florence lumbered offshore, Affordabike wasn’t just empty — it was shut down, one of many Charleston businesses that closed due to storm warnings and the mandatory evacuation ordered by Gov. Henry McMaster. Although Florence spared the area physical damage, it left economic wreckage in the form of days of lost business.

For us, this was the worst time,” Einhorn said. “August and September are the busiest time of the year for us. Back to school happens, some students who are without bikes … get a bike when they’re sick of walking to class. The weather tends to be a pretty good time to ride, and people have their bikes out. It was exceptionally bad timing.”

Affordabike wasn’t alone. Dan Blumenstock, immediate past chairman of the Charleston Convention and Visitors Bureau, said Florence closures cost the business community an estimated $9 million per day, and around $65 million for the entire seven-day period.

That’s the ripple effect,” said Blumenstock, who also operates several area hotels. “That’s lodging, dining, attractions, people spending money on retail. You definitely see the (effects) whenever the tourist community is pulled out.”

Conventions, Blumenstock added, typically cancel immediately whenever a hurricane threatens the vicinity — certainly the case with Florence, which early forecasts indicated might hit Charleston. Guests from areas that don’t experience hurricanes hear a mandatory evacuation edict and think they need to leave town immediately.

The result is lost business. “I think we probably took a 60 percent haircut last week,” said Karalee Fallert, co-owner Taco Boy, the Park Cafe and the Royal American restaurants.

We’re getting used to this. We see this almost every year now. We’re prepared for it from an overall financial aspect for the company. I think the greatest struggle is for the employees, and people who don’t prepare to have a half a week of wages saved up. With the lost wages, the biggest problem we see is that everybody comes back hurting.”

Blumenstock said the phones at his hotel properties began ringing with cancellations early in the week, particularly after the evacuation order. “In the hotel world, we have a term called ‘heads and beds.’ Whatever you don’t book that night is gone for good,” he added. Even if some visitors reschedule, “that time period is gone. You’re just kind of shifting it, but you’re never recouping it.”

Making up that lost revenue is especially difficult so late in the summer. “A lot of everyday traffic, we missed out on,” Einhorn said. “We had to refund a lot of rentals. The city was dead for rentals. We’ll get some of that back, but … it won’t add up to all the money that was lost.”

Which makes it additionally important, business owners say, that locals shop local. “I think that’s a vital thing, and I think our community represents that, quite frankly,” Blumenstock said. “I see it all the time. We do business with people that we know. As large as the Charleston area has become, that’s one of the great small-community feelings that’s still here.”

Fallert agreed. “People supporting their neighborhood and local businesses, it’s the difference between someone easily paying their rent or struggling through it,” she said. “You can see it in your neighbor’s face. So it makes a huge difference.”

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