Hurricane Rita Hits LoveWorks Sex Store
Hurricane Rita – a storm I will never forget.
Almost every Louisiana company was impacted in September 2005, by the devastating power of Hurricane Rita. While most of the smart people deserted everything and headed for higher and safer ground, some of us refused to go – or refused to stay away!. I don't advise it, but that was my choice in 2005, when I avoided police check-points and blockades and returned to Lake Charles, LA, the day after Hurricane Rita wreaked havoc.
LoveWorks was in the process of preparing our new building, finalizing the installation of display fixtures. It was in an area that we thought to be safe from flooding, and far enough from the water to avoid any storm surges or secondary damage caused by the surges.
RETURNING TO SEE THE DAMAGE HURRICANE RITA DELIVERED:
As I drove down our main street, the hair on the back of my neck stood up. It was an eery feeling, almost like I had entered the scene of a scary movie, where all the residents of a town had "disappeared". There was NO one visible. There were NO cars on the street. I didn't see another person or another car for more than two hours after arriving. Lake Charles, LA was a ghost town.
It didn't take long to arrive at our new building, since there was no traffic and no traffic lights. From the direction I arrived, the building looked fine. No broken glass, no missing metal panels, wall intact. Of course there was trash everywhere – and by trash, I mean steel beams, parts of cars, trailers and other metal objects that I couldn't identify. Parts of the billboard that was above the LoveWorks store were also strewn around like paper.
I drove past the building, to make a circle around it. That is when I saw it – a billboard, owned by the Lamar Company, had broken at the base like a twig or a toothpick, and had fallen forcefully on to the side and roof of the building. It is one of those moments when you can barely swallow, because you know that every person, business, insurance company in the world can use the (Hurricane Rita was an) "Act of God" clause and avoid any costs for reparation.
I took another deep breath and walked to the doors, inserted the key and went in. I knew that before the hurricane rita evacuation, we had mounted our wall display equipment (called "grid wall") on the wall where the billboard had damaged, and the parts of the suspended ceiling had been changed and leveled.
In the pictures, you can see that the entire wall is leaning inward; the billboard had come punctured the wall and the roof; rain had been pouring in, damaging and destroying the insulation and ceiling tile. Although only a small amount of water is visible in the pictures, we were unable to stop the rain from coming into the building until we could hire a roof repair company.
We struggled for months (!) to get a repair company. Everyone who lived in this area was gone. The people and services coming to this area were price gouging, and even they were so busy you were lucky if anyone would come talk to you about the work you needed. There was so much work to do in this state that we (and many others) would be waiting for many months.
BUT WE STILL HAD OUR OLD LOCATION – OR DID WE?:
But we were lucky, we thought, because we will had a few more month in our previous location. It was being demolished January 1, 2006, and we had until the last day of December to get out. That gave us three months to get the building repaired and moved.
Because of hurricane Rita, the demographic of Lake Charles had (temporarily) changed – Lake Charles was now a "MAN'S TOWN". The influx of (temporarily) single males coming to Lake Charles to fill the unlimited employment positions breathed a hurricane-force-wind-of-life into the local strip clubs. We noticed that slightly at the end of October, but full force on the first of November.
STRIPPERS WERE OUR BEST FRIENDS:
There weren't enough women to be selective and the club hired anyone who agreed to strip and dance. All of these "stripper noobies" weren't prepared. They began earning $2,000 per day in tips! Every new job requires "tools" and "uniforms" and stripping is no different. 10-20% of their daily earnings were being spent in our old store location on lingerie, shoes, dancer-wear, costumes, panties, and anything else that resembled anything they could use at the club.
During this time, we wrote to the landlord and asked if it was possible to extend past our deadline of December 31. We assumed that they wouldn't be able to demolish on time since construction work was so far behind. They vehemently answered NO. Actually, not just "NO", but "HELL NO".
We were having the best sales in the history of LoveWorks. I was drooling at the thought of a few months of these super daily sales. And with the construction boom still moving forward, I could see no immediate end to this windfall.
OUR LUCK AND GOOD FORTUNE ENDS:
A short time after I requested to remain in the building after our deadline, an arsonist lit our building on fire. We weren't open and no one was in the building or was hurt. The fire was lit at the opposite end of our building, on the side where a "vacant" store front was located.
No flames reached our side. But the building filled with smoke and ash. Did you catch the word "smoke"? The terrible, putrid, rancid small of smoke from an old wood fire. Every item of clothing ruined. Every item in the store STUNK. Many absorbed so much smoke (even through the packaging) that is wasn't sellable. (I didn't keep any pictures from this time. It was a bad time in my life and I didn't want to have pictures to remind me).
We were out of business.
It took weeks to argue with the insurance company for any amount of settlement. They refused to compensate us based on what the sales were (and would have had with the new stripper business). In the end, they looked at the month of November of the previous year and said, "You made this amount of profit that month, so we will pay you a portion of that amount".
WHERE TO NOW??
We could no longer stay in the old location as it was un-inhabitable. We tried getting the smell out but it didn't work. Our new building was still leaking water like a sieve. We had no sellable merchandise. What do we do??
In the end, we drove to the new leaking building and setup up a small mini-store using the back door! We had no signage, a building that was obviously damaged and looked deserted, and were operating out of a back door trying to sell sex toys. You can imagine how well that went over. Our terrible Christmas season passed as slowly and painfully as a gall stone.
2006 HAD TO BE OUR SAVIOUR:
We operated out of the back door until late January, when the contractor finally had time to fix our building. As soon as he was finished, we began unpacking all of the new merchandise and getting the store ready for opening. Signs went up and we no longer looked like a deserted out-of-business location.
CUSTOMERS OF ADULT STORES CAN BE FUNNY:
A few customers began to complain that our back door wasn't open anymore. They had been shopping with us during this time, and could hide their company truck and come in the back door, making sure that no one saw them. We laughed, and told them we hope to never open that door again!
This was the turning point, and the year began to take off. Once I got over the aggravation and frustration, I never looked back. And even though I will never forget Hurricane Rita, it is over and behind me. Oh, and the arsonist was never caught. Go figure.