Anxious to Get Back to Work

Frank Sibley, owner of R.J. Marchand's hardware store in Metairie, La., looks over damage to his business caused by Hurricane Katrina.
Frank Sibley, owner of R.J. Marchand's hardware store in Metairie, La., looks over damage to his business caused by Hurricane Katrina. (By Nikki Kahn -- The Washington Post)
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 13, 2005

METAIRIE, La. -- Craig Boes walked into a hardware store, approached the owner and confessed. A few days before, he had come through a broken window and swiped a crowbar.

"Not a problem," said Frank Sibley, the 70-year-old owner of R.J. Marchand's, who'd done business with Boes for about 20 years. "Now if only other people would come in and tell me they'd taken something, too. We could sit down and work it out."

More than two weeks after Hurricane Katrina roared through the area, Sibley is trying to restart his business.

Pressures are everywhere: Three of his workers are still missing. The Home Depot down the street is already open, selling to some of his loyal customers. Sibley's suppliers are pushing him to reopen so they won't lose big sales. He hasn't yet accounted for all his missing merchandise. Floodwaters destroyed some of it. Looters broke his storefront window and got more.

"They even stole the damn garbage cans," Sibley said.

Sibley's shop sits on Division Street, off a main drag that has malls and big-box stores Petco and Linens 'n Things. Last Friday, the doors to those stores were filled with sandbags, and armed military police patrolled the parking lots. Gray mud and grit covered parts of the linoleum floor at Sibley's store, though floodwaters had receded. Katrina's winds had ripped off the store's sign; a steel bar that once held it dangles out front.

Sibley has been driving in most days from Hammond, about an hour north of Metairie, to work on cleaning up the store before the 6 p.m. curfew. It's nearly impossible to do without electricity; government officials have told him it could take at least two weeks before power and phone lines are fully restored in the area.

Before the storm, Sibley's business was doing $3 million a year in sales and employed almost 20 people. Sibley says isn't sure if he has business interruption insurance, which would allow him to pay his office workers, drivers and salespeople, some of whom have lost their homes and belongings, even though he's been shut down for the past two weeks.

He can't find the paperwork in his pitch-black office, and he hasn't been able to contact the employee who would know. Many scattered to as far away as Chicago to escape the hurricane, and most are waiting for power to be restored to their houses before they come back. Sibley invited one of his bookkeepers to move into his five-bedroom brick house near the shop because she lost her entire house and all her belongings.

There are other logistical problems to reopening.

Sibley has a $90,000 order of heavy-duty drills and other equipment that was to be driven along the interstates from Ohio to a shipyard near New Orleans. But the order got rerouted because of the hurricane.

"I'm not sure where they are," Sibley said. Another one of his distributors has 200 generators that he's waiting to ship to Sibley's store from Baton Rouge, but Sibley can't house them in the store because thieves ripped his security system from the wall and threw it on the floor.

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