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Six months after storm, shops are back in business

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Judi DuCote walked into Set N Trendz Salon in Spotsylvania County for the first time in six months and didn’t notice a difference.

It had the same sleek, modern look that she remembered. And owner Crystal Smith had as much spunk as ever.

“As soon as I walked in, I said, we’re home,” said DuCote, who has been a loyal customer of Smith’s for 14 years.

The salon reopened on Jan. 2, nearly six months after a microburst destroyed much of the Fleming Center—a small strip mall off U.S. 1.

Two other businesses in the shopping center, Battery Charge and Virginia Mattress Direct & Wholesale Furniture, had to temporarily relocate until November. And Ginny’s Seafood & Deli had  to shut down completely for almost two months, among its busiest for crab sales.

Now everything appears to be back to normal.

In fact, sales at Ginny’s have picked up since it reopened at the end of August, said owner Ginny Newman, 64, who started the business almost 20 years ago.

Old customers who hadn’t been for awhile started coming again. And some of the workers hired to repair the Fleming Center have become regulars.

“As far as the disaster, I did not like that,” Newman said. “But I’ve met a lot of new friends. My customers become my friends.”

She initially thought her business had relatively minor water damage, so she reopened to sell crabs on the weekend after the disaster.  But it ended up needing a new roof.

Newman said her husband tried to convince her to retire, but she would have none of it.

“I cannot sit around and do nothing,” she said.

Battery Charge temporarily moved to a garage behind the  Fleming Center, and Virginia Mattress Direct occupied a storefront at the end of the strip mall previously leased by Anytime Limousines.

For awhile, Ginny’s was the only place with a working bathroom.

“I do not deny anyone bathroom privileges,” said Newman, who added that construction workers would often buy food during restroom breaks.

Smith, the hair stylist,  leased a 10-by-10 foot room at a salon in Massaponax and continued to serve DuCote and other regulars.

But it just wasn’t the same as having her own place, she said. It also drained her to have to constantly talk to customers about the aftermath of the July 8 microburst.

“It’s just like losing a house,” said Smith, who had to let her receptionist go and lost a stylist to another salon in the wake of the disaster.

Drew Frye, who owns the mattress store, said he lost money being in the smaller, temporary location. For one, he couldn’t fit as many mattresses into his showroom.

But he said he’s happy with improvements to the strip mall, even though he wishes it hadn’t taken so long.

“It’s a much nicer looking place now,” Frye said. “It was definitely not how we wanted to get there, but it needed to be done.”

Ryan Fines, who works at Battery Charge, said one of his customers complimented him on how new and fresh the store smelled.

James Gardner, who owns the strip mall, said the building’s improvements include a new roof, insulation, wiring and energy-efficient lighting. A red awning that lights up at night replaced old wood shingles.

“I think they’re tickled that they’ve got a much nicer building than before, and the rent’s still the same,” said Gardner, who thinks the tenants will pay less for utilities because of the updates.

The former Cheer Fusion gym is right behind the Fleming Center. The microburst took down everything except for two of its walls, which still stand today. Nobody died, though two parents were seriously injured.

Gardner said he plans to keep the remaining walls for the rebuild, which he expects to start in a month or so. Cheer Fusion has moved to another facility in Stafford County, but Gardner says he has other potential tenants.

All of the Fleming Center businesses plan to host a grand reopening event sometime soon.

On Thursday, DuCote said during her hair appointment that she could tell a weight had been lifted off Smith’s shoulders.

“The laughter is coming from her belly instead of just from her mouth,” she said.

Jeff Branscome:  540/374-5402

jbranscome@freelancestar.com

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