Along Front Street, A Few Businesses Open In Storm Mode

Sep 17, 2018

Wilmington residents are emerging from homes and shelters after riding out Hurricane Florence.  Power was still out on Front Street Sunday afternoon, but a few businesses were open for those who ventured out, providing food and supplies or a beer among friends.

Donnie Butler was walking up Front Street with his hands in his pockets around 6:30 Sunday night. For him and his pregnant wife, Florence has been a trial.  

“Right now we're struggling for food. Everybody downtown that's open don't take nothing but cash. You know, I don't have any, so things is tough right now,” Butler said.

Butler has an electronic benefits card, but it won't work in stores without power. He rode his bicycle a few miles in search of a grocery that would take it, but no luck. He said out-of-town reporters at the Marriott helped out one day, by sharing food.

Mainly, it hasn't been easy downtown, he said.

“There's a couple little stores open. A bunch of bars are open, which is irrelevant, unless you want to get drunk, you know?” Butler said.  

One of those stores is Gourmet Market on Front Street, where owner Sam Joseph says it was a busy day.

“We had so many people come in, do shopping. Because there is not any store open … So we've been open yesterday, today, and then we're going to be here until curfew time, which is 8 o'clock tonight,” Joseph said.  

:He’s been able to stay open the same way many here are doing it: “Well, we have candles, as you see, and we have a little bit of flashlight, so we just, just do what you can. It's survival.”

A few doors down the street is one of those bars Donnie Butler was talking about - an Irish pub called Slainte.  Belarussian transplant Misha Sobol owns the place, and lives upstairs. He said he’s stayed open every day, for regulars who wanted to get out after days inside.

“We open so people can get an escape, socialize and meet each other,  In addition, I think I saved some marriages and good relationships,” he joked.  

Stewart Anderson raises his beer as he joins other Wilmington residents at Slainte, an Irish Pub downtown Sunday afternoon.
Credit David Boraks / WHQR

Sobol was right about people needing a getaway. Stewart Anderson was standing in the doorway Sunday evening. 

“I just came for a pint,” he said, to take his mind off his troubles.

“We have an eight inch hole through our roof at our house, our brand new house that we just finished five months ago, and our whole inside of our house is full of water. But we'll get through it,” Anderson said.

Other restaurants downtown were not able to stay open. At the upscale eatery Manna on Princess Street, the windows are still boarded up, there's still no power, and owner William Mellon says his employees are scattered around the Southeast. He hopes to be open with a small menu by mid-week.

“But as far as us being back to being 35 employees, it'll probably be a week or so, at least,” Mellon said.  

Like the rest of Wilmington, Mellon said getting back to normal will be a step-by-step process.

David Boraks is a reporter at NPR member station WFAE-FM in Charlotte, on loan to WHQR to cover the aftermath of Hurricane Florence.