HOUSTON – The smell of bleach fills the air in Robert Valladares’ car body shop. Fans blast cold air to cut through the humidity and prevent mold growth throughout the building.
The carpet in the office is gone and all office supplies are stacked on a lone desk to escape the floodwaters that once filled the building inside. Three feet of walls are gutted from the floor. Back in his shop, flooded tools and upholstery line his workbenches. Valladares reaches into a bucket of tools. Those, too, are wet.
“I didn’t realize there was water in the bucket,” he said, dumping out various power tools.
Valladares opened Quick Fix Headliners & Glass in 1991 with his wife with a box of tools in the back of his Toyota Celica. The two have grown the business from the back of that car, when they couldn’t even afford a van, to their current shop off Clay Road in west Houston.
Valladares’ voice is full of happiness when he talks about his business and the reputation it’s built in the 26 years since it’s been opened.
“For being a shop that is small, we do really good work and have a really good reputation,” he said.
But it falls to a more somber tone when he discusses the recent flooding that shut it down.
“What can I say, it’s heartbreaking,” he said. “I’m not working. I’ve got no other income. But I’ve still got a mortgage and a car payment.”
Valladares is one of thousands of small business owners across Southeast Texas whose businesses were impacted by Hurricane Harvey, one of the biggest natural disasters in U.S. history. It’s a storm that dropped one trillion gallons of water in Harris County alone, according to the Harris County Flood Control District.
Valladares business sits on the west side of the Addicks Reservoir. The reservoir, which was built in the 1930s to help control the flow of water to downtown Houston during major rain events, overcame its banks due to all the rainfall and sent water inside a small business center that houses Valladares’ shop. In the 15 years he’s been in that location, Valladares has never seen the water get that high.
“That’s why we don’t have flood insurance,” he said.
Now, he’s left wondering: What’s next?
The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has opened a recovery center at the University of Houston to help small business owners move forward. Congress approved a $450 million loan Wednesday for the SBA’s disaster loan program.
That money allows small business owners, like Valladares, to apply for low-interest disaster loans that will help repair physical damage done to their buildings and inventory, as well as help cover things such as overhead costs and payroll.
"The key thing is to apply early, even if you end up not needing the loan,” said Mark Randle, an SBA public affairs specialist in Houston.
As of Wednesday morning, the SBA has received over 9,000 disaster loan applications and approved $37.2 million in loans.
Once at the recovery center, Randle said small business owners will meet one-on-one with an SBA representative to discuss loan options that best suites their business.
There are also representatives from the Small Business Development Center on site who are available to help revise business and marketing plans and other needs to help a business run and make it through these trying times.
“There’s a wealth of resources right there,” Randle said. “Come in, get help and find out about any assistance available.”
All services provided at the recovery center are free of charge.
Randle urged small business owners affected by Harvey to apply for help immediately, especially with Hurricane Irma, a Category 5 storm in the Atlantic, heading for the Florida coast. Irma, like Harvey, could cause catastrophic damage if it makes landfall.
“You want to get in now and not get behind a bunch of Irma applications,” Randle said.
Even if Irma does strike Florida, Randle said the SBA resources to help small business owners in Texas aren’t going anywhere.
“We’ll be here as long as necessary,” Randle said.
That’s welcome news for Valladeres. But he knows that getting his business back to normal is a long journey ahead.
“I’m just going to take it one day at a time,” he said.
Resources for small business owners
- Address: 2302 Fannin St. Suite 200, Houston, TX 77002
- Hours: Monday – Friday: 8 a.m. – 6 p.m., Saturday – Sunday: 9 a.m. – 4 p.m.
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