2011 Tornadoes: Tuscaloosa Business Owners Five Years After the Storm

Apr 19, 2016

 

It has been nearly five years since a massive EF-4 tornado ripped through Tuscaloosa Alabama. Twelve percent of the city was destroyed and seven thousand people became unemployed. Here is a look at what recovery has been like for those who decided to come back and those who did not…

 

Back in August Fresh Market opened its doors in Tuscaloosa Alabama. It was the first of several new shops to open in the new “Legacy Park,” an area that had been flattened in the April 27th 2011 tornado. Walter Maddox is Tuscaloosa’s mayor; he says this new site is a great step in his city’s recovery from the storms…

 

“Four years ago this site generated lass than fifty-thousand dollars a year worth of taxes back in our community. After the tornado we wanted a more strategic picture of how to rebuild, which included higher quality, higher development which helped our entire city. In the first year of business this entire shopping center will create over a million dollars in new taxes for this community, so that means better investments in our schools, our roads and most importantly is means more jobs and a better quality of life.”

 

While many people like seeing new businesses coming to town, many in Tuscaloosa wanted to see some of the old staples return, one of those was Milo’s Hamburgers. The regional restaurant chain based out of Bessemer Alabama is known for its burgers and their variety of sauces. Milo’s reopened in Tuscaloosa, but it took just over four years and a move to the other side of town before it happened…

 

Tom Deakle is Milo’s C-E-O and he says it was important for the burger joint to return to Tuscaloosa…

 

“We had a wonderful relationship with the community in Tuscaloosa, there is a steady flow of students who go back and forth. We always intended to come back we just didn’t have the chance to do that in the first year or two the city was sorting out the regulations and zoning ordinances.”

 

Councilman Harrison Taylor says the people of Tuscaloosa have been asking about the restaurant ever since the storms destroyed the previous location…

 

“It’s a big day in Tuscaloosa to get one of the businesses that was destroyed in the tornado back. Citizens have kept questioning and looking for it, the city worked with them and we’re so happy to have it on a day like today a grand opening and ribbon cutting for Milo’s Hamburger.”

 

A chain restaurant coming back is one thing; you have a corporate structure to help with the return, but what about a mom and pop business owned by someone here in town? That is where you get the story of Brad McDaniel, he is the owner of the barbecue restaurant Hoo’s Q. McDaniel is a former franchisee of Mike and Ed’s BBQ, which is based out of Phenix City Alabama right on the Georgia border. McDaniel’s shop was located on 15th Street which was a major avenue for the tornado…

 

“When I walked out of the restroom that day from the tornado, I looked across Forest Lake and I thought thousands of people in Tuscaloosa were dead, cause all the trees, the beautiful trees that were over there were like twigs.”

 

 McDaniel reopened soon after in Northport, just across the Black Warrior River…

 

“We did a temporary location; I did have some customers that would come eat with us here but it just wasn’t like the location on 15th street.”

 

But it didn’t last long, just a short time later McDaniel closed up shop again. However, he came back at his old location on 15th Street, but this time he was no longer part of Mike and Ed’s, he opened Hoo’s Q…

 

“It was time for me to get out or renew it for five more years, so I decided to get out and when we reopened, I reopened under a new name.”

 

McDaniel says it was primarily a problem with logistics when it came down to making his decision to leave the franchise and open under his own name. He opened Hoo’s Q on April 27th, 2013…two years to the day after the storm. He says it was important to come back to 15th street, but there were some problems…

 

“It’s just hard to let everyone know that used to come see us because I didn’t know where they were and they hadn’t seen us in two years.”

 

McDaniel says business is growing every day and he is happy with his decision to come back.

 

That wasn’t the case for Debra Burroughs and her family business H&W Drug…

 

“It’s hard to see but it says H&W Drugs East on the roof, that H &W that was there is what is in my back yard, and it was next door in the parking lot of the Schlotsky’s next door.”

Burroughs showed me pictures of the business her father built back in 1964. The lot where the drug store stood is now empty, but for Burroughs, it still holds a lot of memories and the decision to not come back was a tough one…

 

“All our customers were just an extended family and yeah, I cried a lot to try and decide whether I wanted to build back and um, I felt like I was letting a lot of people down…I’m sorry…but really it came down to a business decision.”

And there was a lot to think about…

 

“With healthcare and all the third parties that are paying for medications and paying for things, each year the profit margin shrinks what you’re able to make on your prescriptions, there is competition to lower your front end prices to compete with all the other big box stores that sell things at discounted prices every day.”

 

Burroughs says she had to think of her employees as well…

 

“The employees couldn’t stand not having a job for three or four months while all this got figured out and it was a hard decision, and I came to the decision that I would not reopen.”

Burroughs is still a pharmacist, but now she works for someone else. The city of Tuscaloosa is still thinking about how it will commemorate the fifth anniversary of the 2011 tornado, which changed lives and businesses in this college town forever.