Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Day of the Sea Gulls: Birds Meant Bad News for Store

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Day of the Sea Gulls: Birds Meant Bad News for Store

Article excerpt

When Thom Sehnert stepped through the door into the earliest glow of dawn and heard the sea gulls, he knew he was in real trouble.

"Those sea gulls knew a lot more than I did," Sehnert said with a wry smile.

On Friday night, July 30, Sehnert, his wife, Jane, and family members pulled an all-night flood watch at their business, The Smoke House Market and Annie Gunn's restaurant in Chesterfield. The levee had broken at the far west end of the Chesterfield bottoms.

"But we were told it would only be about a foot or two," Sehnert said. "I thought that would cover the parking lot. . . . We had already sandbagged the building, and I thought we would be safe."

By late Saturday morning, water surrounded the building and was half-way up the wall.

But Sehnert had sandbagged too well.

"The basement was still dry when the water was all around," Sehnert said. "Then the sewer drains started popping; they were like six-inch firehydrants . . . because of the underground water pressure."

The rapidly rising basement water blew out the subflooring and flooring, creating a multilayer sandwich of mud, wood, tables, chairs, shelves and coolers. Everything else floated to the ceiling.

"It was a good 7 1/2 feet of water inside" the first floor of the store and restaurant, Sehnert said. But the second-floor apartment and third-floor office remained dry.

"I've learned a lot about hydrology," Sehnert said.

Within a matters of hours the Sehnerts had lost 13 years of hard work, more than $700,000 of equipment and fixtures, $100,000 in meat, seafood and other groceries, and 40 employees were out of work.

The Sehnerts had lots of insurance.

"We had insurance on everything - on the (pig) sign on the roof, on the mail box," Sehnert said. But he found out too late that floods were not covered under his regular insurance.

With the Missouri rising, Sehnert took out $550,000 worth of flood insurance for $3,000.

"But there was a five-day waiting period," Sehnert said. "It didn't take effect until Saturday night. We missed it by a day.

"The irony of the flood was that we had just paid off the (1985) note of $350,000, free and clear the week before - and we did it three and half years early."

At this point, a lot of small-business people would have just walked away. But the Sehnerts knew they had to do something. The key was keeping options open, Sehnert said.

He started by talking to friends, builders, suppliers and potential financial backers. And Sehnert crunched and recrunched the numbers on his options.

"It cost us $50,000 to clean the mud out," Sehnert said. "With architect fees and planning fees we are looking at another $25,000 to $30,000."

The building is structurally sound but everything was cleaned out, down to the brick walls and the open floor joists.

That money and work, however, were necessary just to set up the options, Sehnert said, as he laid them out:

"Plan A: Redevelop the business as before the flood. …

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