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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)

Without the alarms, Sibley said, he can't order new supplies and equipment. He says he's worried that there's little street life -- other than the occasional National Guardsman patrolling with an M-16 or electricity workers -- in the neighborhood.

He's losing between $15,000 and $18,000 a day by not being open, he said.

Sibley estimates that he was robbed of some $15,000 worth of pocket knives, nail guns, saws, blades, drills, radios, tool bags, cordless tools, wrenches and generators from his shop and adjoining warehouse, about the size of a basketball court. A cash register drawer that had $167.25 in it the last time he looked, the day before the storm, now sits busted, holding 15 cents.

A thin wire rope hangs limp from a display near his front counter. It used to be tied to a Timberland boot.

"They didn't even have the other shoe," Sibley said.

In the dark, muggy store, Boes, the contractor, walked with Sibley last week, using a flashlight to look for saws, blades and a few other items to fix wet and moldy sheetrock.

"We need you back, Frank," Boes said, as Sibley held a flashlight in one hand and used a pencil with the other to write down the serial numbers of the $500 worth of stuff Boes selected. "We'll take care of it later," Sibley told Boes of paying him for the supplies.

Sibley said he's competed against the Lowe's and Home Depots that have popped up around him in the past few years by offering good customer service. Boes agreed.

"A number of years ago, we had financial difficulties with my company, and the creditors were calling," Boes said. "Frank was one of the few people who understood. He still did business with me. You develop loyalty to a guy like him."

One of 12 children, Sibley was born and raised on a dairy farm in upstate New York. His father was a chemist; his mother worked as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. At 18, Sibley joined the Air Force and worked as a jet mechanic at a base in north Louisiana. He got married at 22 when he left the Air Force and worked fixing heating and air-conditioning systems. In 1960, he got a job selling tools for R.J. Marchand, who had his own hardware and tool business. Sibley worked his way up to managing Marchand's store in Metairie, and in 1987, he paid Marchand $1 million for the business.

While his wife, Gloria, cared for the couple's five children -- four boys and a girl -- Sibley supplemented his family's income from the hardware business by driving a tour bus through New Orleans at night and on the weekends. Since he's owned Marchand's, Sibley has quadrupled the number of employees and doubled the sales. His two older sons -- Kevin, 44, and Greg, 42 -- help him run the store.

Sibley's no stranger to loss. His brother was killed in the Korean War; his son was killed aboard the USS Stark in the Persian Gulf; his wife died last year of kidney failure.


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