When a tornado hit Moore, Oklahoma in May of last year, residential neighborhoods bore the brunt of the damage. But it was a different story in Joplin, Missouri, after an EF-5 tornado damaged or destroyed more than 500 businesses back in 2011.
Three years later, more than 90% of those businesses have returned to write a new chapter in Joplin’s story. Gail Banzet-Ellis with the Oklahoma Tornado Project reports.
In Adornables Alteration Shop on Joplin’s Main Street, sewing machines hum as seamstresses work on garments. Flashy prom dresses, delicate wedding gowns and pressed uniforms hang in plastic around the room.
Owners Chris and Liliya Moos have thousands of devoted customers, but their business came to a halt after the tornado trashed their shop. Like many Joplin residents, Chris says they thought twice about reopening.
“We had been in business for 11 years. I mean we had stuff that we had purchased and created and it’s like ‘do I really want to do all of that again?,’” Moos said.
But Chris and Liliya realized just how deeply connected they were to the community. Their insurance agent was even a loyal customer.
“He actually called me Sunday evening after the tornado. I had a call from the insurance company Monday morning, an adjuster here Tuesday and money by Friday, so we had the capital to go back into business and everything. So that’s what we did,” Moos said.
In January, Adornables moved into a brand new building just two doors down from its original location. But Joplin Chamber of Commerce President Rob O’Brian says not all businesses could recover so quickly – especially if they relied on federal disaster assistance.
“The reality is some of those funds really weren’t even available to us until almost two years after the tornado, so it really has been just in the last year or so we’ve been able to count on those resources and plan for them.”
Putting the puzzle back together can be a slow process, but it is happening. Joplin is home to nearly 50,000 people but grows to more than 300,000 during the day for shopping, dining, health care and jobs. O’Brian says this regional demand sustained the economy and has even encouraged new development.
“The total employment in the metro area is back to not only where it was pre-recession in 2008 but is actually a little higher,” O’Brian said.
From dentist offices to auto dealerships, the need for basic services prevented Joplin from falling into a state of decline.
Mike McCann is the general manager of Fletcher Nissan on Rangeline Road, one of Joplin’s main thoroughfares hardest hit by the storm. He says generous support from other car dealers in the 4-state area boosted recovery for Fletcher and the entire city.
“There were over 2,000 homes destroyed, and a lot of those had cars that were destroyed, and so all of those people needed transportation to jobs and family sporting events and things like that so that allowed us to keep providing people with their mode of transportation as well,” McCann said.
Three years later business owners have learned that rebuilding after an EF-5 tornado doesn’t happen overnight. Whether it’s recovery in Joplin, Missouri or Moore, Oklahoma, gathering resources to resurrect a community takes time … and a lot of patience.