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Published: Tuesday, 9/13/2005

Business reopenings bring glimmer of hope

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER

METAIRIE, La. - Darryl Moran cut his grass yesterday. Mike Rumagossa considered the prospect of selling new cars. And Cathy Bryan bought groceries at a neighborhood supermarket.

Fifteen days ago, after Hurricane Katrina blew through the northern New Orleans suburbs of Metairie, River Ridge, and other Jefferson Parish communities, such thoughts would have seemed ridiculous. Numerous houses and buildings were severely damaged or destroyed and seemingly every tree in the parish was split or felled.

But many structures were merely badly bruised.

North Jefferson, where Metairie and River Ridge are located, was spared the flooding that crippled New Orleans, and power has been restored to parts of the parish. So yesterday, parish council President Aaron Broussard, who wept on Meet the Press nine days ago, asked business owners to return to their shops to begin the rebuilding process.

That was a signal to parish residents - those who haven't left or evacuated nearby - to get out and get busy.

Mr. Moran brought a yard crew to his late parents' River Ridge house to trim the shaggy front lawn and clean up the scores of tree limbs that covered the backyard but somehow missed the home.

Dana Fouchi and his dog, Baby Boy, shop for groceries at Breaux Mart in Metairie, La. The family owned grocery reopened on Friday, a sign of life in an area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina. Dana Fouchi and his dog, Baby Boy, shop for groceries at Breaux Mart in Metairie, La. The family owned grocery reopened on Friday, a sign of life in an area ravaged by Hurricane Katrina.
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The sun was hot, the air stag-nant, and the mosquitoes fierce. None of it seemed to bother the effusive Mr. Moran, 55. He said he and his wife, Libby, owners of a catering service, have kept busy feeding volunteer aid workers. Last night, they were planning a feast of red beans and rice, sausage, salad, and white chocolate bread pudding for members of the New York City police department, who are scheduled to leave today.

So far, the Morans' service has been gratis. But with glimpses of normalcy returning and cash in short supply, Mr. Moran said wants to resume making money.

"We're going to have to do something," he said.

Mr. Moran said he welcomed Mr. Broussard's initiative to get the parish moving, particularly businesses. "If you keep the public out, businesses [can] solidify and be ready for when people come back."

Still, during a drive along normally busy Airline Drive, which bisects Metairie, few businesses were active yesterday.

Not so at Bryan Chevrolet-Mitsubishi-Suzuki, the area's oldest Chevy dealer.

Service managers Mickey Rhodes and Kevin Duet managed to recruit 12 of the company's 150 employees for the cleanup effort.

When power was restored on Friday, Mr. Rhodes said the first order of business was to repair the doors leading to service area. Next up, the computers need to be restored.

Meanwhile, Mr. Duet has been trying to recover some of the 60 new vehicles that were stolen after looters broke into the building and lifted the keys.

The company's employees have scattered from Florida to California. Mr. Duet said the company wired paychecks to all of them last week and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. However, as the dealership prepares to open, Mr. Duet said he will need immediate help. With other area dealerships out of business for a longer time, he hopes to temporarily recruit their employees.

When Bryan's reopens, business likely will be brisk; thousands of area residents lost their cars during Katrina.

"We're going to need a lot of cars," said Mr. Rumagossa, the sales manager.

Ms. Bryan turned up at Breaux Mart, a locally owned grocer in River Ridge, to stock up on milk, meat, and other perishable goods she has been unable to buy for two weeks.

"It's nice to see things getting back to normal, especially the little things you take for granted," she said.

Customers who haven't seen one another for days traded storm stories. Others, though thrilled to be shopping, wondered why there were no eggs.

Jason Weishaar, assistant manager, said reopening was a chore. After Katrina, the entire inventory had to be disposed of. The store then had to be scrubbed clean, before opening on Friday. Three other area stores, in worse condition, have yet to open.

Supplies have been shipped in by Associated Grocers of Baton Rouge, but they are having shortages themselves, explaining half full shelves and the missing eggs, Mr. Weishaar said.

"It's nice," he said, "to see people we haven't seen for a while."

Something else normal happened yesterday here - normal in the context of post-Katrina, where charitable acts have become commonplace.

Tori Sanchez was $8 short on her Breaux Mart bill and not sure what to do. A customer overheard Ms. Sanchez talking to the cashier and quickly, without a word, reached for his wallet.

Ms. Sanchez said it was the fourth time in two weeks strangers have given her money.

"How do you find the words to describe this? How do you explain the generosity of people who don't know you?" she asked. "It's going to put a smile on my face all day."

Contact George Tanber at:

gtanber@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050



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