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Midland businesses rebuild, recover after historic floods

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Patrick Bush
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Patman Droneography

At the Dow Diamond, the Great Lakes Loons kick off their May 18 game. In the stands, another event takes place. A handful of small business owners set up tables, hand out flyers and advertise to the spectators.

Each of these businesses lost more than property in last year’s flooding, they lost livelihoods.

The Midland Business Alliance (MBA) partnered with the Loons to launch Small Business Tuesdays - one of many efforts by the MBA to give local shops and services a boost towards recovery. The Midland County Board of Commissioners Chairman told the Detroit Free Press more than 2,500 homes, businesses and nonprofits were reported damaged or destroyed in last year’s floods.

One year later, Midland County businesses said it’s small programs like these, along with help from friends, family, neighbors and collogues have kept local commerce alive over the past year.

Ryan Such has owned Lanny’s Restaurant since 2016, but the eatery has been in its same Sanford location since the 70s, until last year. On May 19, the Sanford village president rushed into the building and told Such and his staff to vacate immediately.

Such says there was enough time to turn off the gas, but not much else. When Such returned the next week nearly everything had been underwater.

“It went by so fast; it always seems like another lifetime because so much has happened in that year,” Such said. “So much shouldn’t have happened in one year.”

Such said the cost and time it would take to rebuild in the old location was too extreme. The best, but still difficult, option was to move. Such says, it wouldn’t have been possible if not for his connections to the Midland community which ultimately saved the restaurant.

A friend, collogue and owner of what used to be Stackers Bar & Grill knew Such needed a new kitchen. Before the property located at 4312 N Saginaw Rd was officially on the market, Such was notified. After purchasing the space, a regular customer and family friend launched GoFundMe to help with expenses. The campaign raised over $25,000.

Lanny’s opened at its new Midland location in September. After spending a full winter there, Such said he’s confident the worst is behind him, but he says relocating poses its own unique challenges.

“I’d been working at Lanny’s now almost 17 years altogether, it was like my second home,” Such said. “I could walk around with my eyes closed. I knew where everything was and all the little nuances and tricks to things. It’s taking longer for me to get comfortable here.”

Every business has its own recovery story – especially those in Sanford who received the brunt of the damage.

Just a few months before the floods, Three Diamonds Bridal Boutique opened under Hannah Merillat’s ownership - a young entrepreneur excited to provide a service she thought her community was lacking. Then 12 feet of flood water destroyed her shop.

“Our first and second floors were flooded,” Merillat said. “We lost about five to six hundred prom dresses, mother of the bride dresses, bridesmaid dresses. That was really rough, and it was a few days before we could even get in there to start on the cleanup.”

Inventory losses added up to some $30,000 but regardless, Merillat said she was lucky. She said a constant stream of help poured in from friends and family. Three Diamonds was under renovation until July – which is shorter compared to many businesses. Merillat owes this to her community.

One year later, Merillat says her business is back on its feet.

The story is similar with another local staple. Jack’s Pizza owner Jack Brady remembers loading up his car with everything he could just hours before his business was swallowed by flood waters.

“There’s a picture online where you can a sand line on our roof, showing where the flood waters had reached,” Brady said. “We were gone.”

For six months Jack’s Pizza remained closed. Brady said he couldn’t collect insurance or federal relief after former President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency.

For Brady, the brick building at 245 W Saginaw Rd was home. With the help of friends, family and volunteers he eventually got it back.

All three of the business owners received grants and consultation from the Midland Business Alliance which represents some 3,000 businesses in Midland County. Most recently, the organization launched an advisory committee to help mitigate long-term flooding issues.

The committee works to implement solutions to lessen the frequency and severity of flooding but their main purpose will always be to lift up small businesses. Even before the flood, the MBA provided informational toolkits to help businesses adapt to the COVID-19 pandemic.

President & CEO Tony Stamas said he’s impressed with the resilience of his community.

“It’s amazing; the businesses, the families, their customers and support they’ve had, the resilience they’ve had,” Stamas said. “We all feel that connection with our hometown but certainly here in Midland County we’ve seen that in so many ways.”

Michael Livingston is a senior at Central Michigan University majoring in Journalism and International Relations. He grew up in Hartland, a small town in Livingston County. After graduation in 2022, he aspires to take his reporting abroad as a correspondent.