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Louisiana Flood of 2016: Washed away … but moving forward

August 2, 2017
By Stephanie Riegel
Originally Posted on Greater Baton Rouge Business Report

Among the nearly 12,000 businesses in the Capital Region that were affected by the Louisiana Flood of 2016 were the handful of tenants in the Miller Village Shopping Center, a 1980s-era strip mall near the intersection of Old Hammond Highway and Millerville Road.

As Business Report described in a cover story last September, the nondescript shopping center may not have looked like much to passersby on the busy thoroughfare. To people who live in that part of town, however, Miller Village was an essential part of the community fabric—a popular gathering spot with beloved mom-and-pop businesses that included a Chinese restaurant, a neighborhood watering hole, a nail salon and a dance studio that had taught ballet, tap and jazz to generations of little Baton Rouge girls.

When the waters began rising during the historic flood, the tenants of Miller Village were inundated with more than three feet of water. Their establishments were ruined, and, like so many other small businesses in the Capital Region, they didn’t have flood insurance. Why would they have needed it? Some had been tenants in the shopping center for more than two decades and had never seen so much as a large puddle in the parking lot.

What made the situation particularly difficult for the small businesses in Miller Village is that they were evicted after the flood. In some cases, debris removal contractors hauled off their equipment before they had an opportunity to come in and salvage what they could. For a variety of reasons, none of them had a lease in place at the time of the flood so legally they had no recourse.

Not surprisingly, it’s been a long, difficult year for these small businesses, as it has been for others like them throughout the region. Though the U.S. Small Business Administration came into the market after the flood aggressively advertising its low-interest loans, fewer than 4,000 businesses applied to participate in the program, and as of mid-July only 1,624 loans had been approved.

Grant money was also made available to small businesses owners through a fund established by the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry that raised nearly $1 million. But the awards were relatively small and didn’t go far in addressing the overwhelming need.

One year later, data is not yet available on how many small businesses in the Capital Region have been able to recover from the flood and reopen. But it’s not a stretch to assume that, like the tenants of Miller Village, their fortunes have been mixed.

Some have been able to rebuild, thanks to help from family and friends, savings they’d tucked away for the proverbial rainy day, or bank or SBA loans.

Some have the thrown in the towel, taken their careers in a different direction, moved away or retired.

Some are still struggling to get by, working part-time jobs and staring down a shaky future with few long-term prospects and lots of questions about how to move forward.

The Miller Village Shopping Center, meanwhile, has been redeveloped into a storage center. Only a Rite Aid drug store remains in an anchor tenant space on the far corner of the property. Longtime residents of the neighborhood say the fabric of their community is forever changed without the locally-owned businesses that made their little corner of Baton Rouge unique.