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Wilson businesses prepare to weather the storm

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As meteorologists update forecasts regarding the effects of Hurricane Florence, most business leaders are waiting to make a decision on operating. The one key factor in all the decisions, though, is safety of staff and customers alike.

“I’m just going to wait and see. I told everyone we’d probably open up on Friday, but if the weather is bad, we’ll play it by ear,” said Bill’s Grill owner Will Jenkins. “We plan on working, but if the weather is getting bad already, we’ll stay home.

“I don’t want to take any chances of people getting hurt or stranded.”

Jenkins said he purchased generators to keep food fresh, but he hasn’t had flooding issues at the eatery’s Black Creek or downtown Wilson locations. Tig’s Courtyard co-owner Marty Garris said he opted to board up the business on Barnes Street after landlord Rhine Sharp had to replace a window that was smashed during Hurricane Matthew.

Like Jenkins, Garris said Tig’s will base the decision to close on road conditions and whether the eatery has power.

“Pretty much when the weather starts to move in, it’ll be time for us to head to my parents’ house and be safe together,” he said.

Both restaurateurs said they plan to keep their businesses’ respective Facebook pages updated with closure information. Companies, churches and other organizations also can post operating hours and changes to a post on The Wilson Times’ Facebook page — search for “Wilson Times Co.” or visit www.facebook.com/wilsontimes/.

Wilson Chamber of Commerce President Ryan Simons said every business has different considerations when it comes to shuttering or enduring the storm. BB&T Regional President Scott Evans said a large support team is in place to mitigate issues from Florence throughout the chain, but it is the decision of market presidents to close or open based on local conditions. Evans assured customers that even if a branch closes, the bank’s overall operations would continue with the mobile banking available and ATMs in service barring power outages.

“With a lot of the essential personnel, they’re taking preparations to be in place, so the backroom of the bank will continue to operate,” he said.

Simons said business leaders should keep employees at the forefront of their decisions.

“In times like this, it’s important to remember that enduring a natural disaster of this magnitude affects everyone,” he said. “Crises like this transcend the typical employer/employee relationship. We need to be charitable and empathetic, even if it means subordinating work for the safety and comfort of our neighbors.

“If we do so, we’ll emerge as a stronger, more resilient business community.”

Wilson Community College Small Business Center Director Melissa Evans said business leaders should keep in contact with employees to ensure their well-being and mitigate issues that arise. Once the storm subsides, Simons said the best course of action is assign recovery tasks to staff and set benchmarks to return to normal operations. Having access to insurance policies and agent contact information can help alleviate delays with recovery as well.

“Those who do not have insurance or cash reserves may be able to take advantage of the N.C. Rural Center’s Bridge Loan Program to assist while waiting on FEMA assistance,” Evans said. “The Small Business Centers located at all North Carolina community colleges will be partnering with the N.C. Rural Center and will be able to assist.”

According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, more than 132,000 low-interest disaster loans totaling $6.8 billion were approved in the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria in 2017. Simons said the Wilson Chamber of Commerce will post information about state and federal aid once information is available.

Got an idea for news to include in next week’s Main Street Minute? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me at 252-265-7821 or bhandgraaf@wilsontimes.com.

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