Hard-hit Bridgewater businesses have a long, costly road to recovery after flooding

A Servpro crew clears out silt from the basement of the Miranda Thomas Pottery studio in Bridgewater, Vt., on Friday, July 21, 2023. This is the crew’s fourth job in a week since arriving from Texas on July 14. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

A Servpro crew clears out silt from the basement of the Miranda Thomas Pottery studio in Bridgewater, Vt., on Friday, July 21, 2023. This is the crew’s fourth job in a week since arriving from Texas on July 14. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america photographs — Alex Driehaus

From left, owner Charlie Shackleton talks to Cliff Normand, a technical consultant for insurance claims, and Logan Davis, whose business VT3D is based in the building, as they look at a control panel for a CNC machine that is housed in the basement and was flooded at ShackletonThomas in Bridgewater, Vt., on Friday, July 21, 2023. The building had about two feet of water in the basement, but flooding did not reach the high water mark from Irene, which is marked in blue paint on support poles around the room. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

From left, owner Charlie Shackleton talks to Cliff Normand, a technical consultant for insurance claims, and Logan Davis, whose business VT3D is based in the building, as they look at a control panel for a CNC machine that is housed in the basement and was flooded at ShackletonThomas in Bridgewater, Vt., on Friday, July 21, 2023. The building had about two feet of water in the basement, but flooding did not reach the high water mark from Irene, which is marked in blue paint on support poles around the room. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news / report for america — Alex Driehaus

Peter Chaloux from Thomson Tree Service and Excavation spreads gravel as it arrives by the truckload at the White Cottage Snack Bar in Woodstock, Vt., on Friday, July 21, 2023. Owner John Hurley said he has already gotten at least 75 loads of fill to rebuild the property, averaging about $600 per load. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Peter Chaloux from Thomson Tree Service and Excavation spreads gravel as it arrives by the truckload at the White Cottage Snack Bar in Woodstock, Vt., on Friday, July 21, 2023. Owner John Hurley said he has already gotten at least 75 loads of fill to rebuild the property, averaging about $600 per load. (Valley News / Report For America - Alex Driehaus) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Alex Driehaus

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 07-22-2023 11:31 AM

BRIDGEWATER — Andy Reid was standing at the back entrance of Ramunto’s Brick & Brew Pizza, the restaurant he owns with his wife, in a muddied, silted parking lot a few paces away from the Ottauquechee River during a brief break in Friday’s morning rain.

“You see the dumpster over there?” he said, nodding his head in the direction of a green metal bin behind him. “It weighs more than a 1,000 pounds and was bobbing in the water like a cork.”

That is how Reid described the power of the overflowing Ottauquechee 11 days earlier, pulling out his phone to show a video of the floodwaters gushing like a waterfall into the basement of the historic Bridgewater Mill building, a sprawling former woolen mill towering alongside Route 4 and home to a colony of artists and craftsman studios, his pizza restaurant and the ShackeltonThomas furniture and pottery workshops.

“We’re waiting on cleanup. Fortunately, nobody got hurt. That’s what we care about. But it’s pretty devastating,” said Reid, who with his wife, Pat, bought the Ramunto’s franchise “just after” Tropical Storm Irene in 2011. “We lost three walk-ins.”

The flood took out the restaurant’s two walk-in refrigerators for food and beer and a single walk-in freezer in the basement, crippling the Reids’ ability to prepare the chain’s signature pizza with fresh ingredients.

The ground floor of the restaurant was unaffected, and they purchased a double-door freezer and fridge to try to keep the kitchen operating. But they quickly found the make-do lacked capacity to meet demand, so the Reids have temporarily closed the restaurant until they can “get the refrigeration fixed and things cleaned up” in the basement.

“In this business, refrigeration is the key to success,” said Reid, who added that insurance will not cover the cost of fixing or replacing the equipment he estimates could cost more than $50,000.

“They told us they won’t cover it because it’s a flood,” Reid said, explaining that FEMA money — a common recourse for businesses and people seeking disaster relief — also is not available because “they only cover structures.”

Article continues after...

Yesterday's Most Read Articles

Protests of president punctuate rainy graduation for Dartmouth’s Class of ’24
Fairlee coffee shop creates a buzz around town
Judge: Hanover wrong to deny right-to-know request
New Hartford middle school dean of students seeks to repair relationships
Young bear spotted relaxing on a hammock in a Vermont yard
Taken for taxes and ‘waiting to die’: A homeowner struggles to keep his home

“It’s OK, we’ll rebuild,” said Reid, undaunted, at times his voice halting.

But on Wednesday this past week, former Sleep Woodstock motel owner Patrick Fultz launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money to for Ramunto’s walk-in units. As of Friday afternoon, they had raised almost $21,000 toward a goal of $50,000, with nearly 100 contributions.

“We had to convince him to do it,” Fultz said of Reid on Friday. “We said, ‘Andy, there are so many people who want to help you,’ especially knowing that the Reids would have to be footing the repair costs themselves.”

ShackletonThomas, which owns and occupies 25% of the Bridgewater Mill, also is turning to GoFundMe to help cover the costs of fixing and replacing wood milling equipment located in the building’s basement, which was under 2 feet of water 11 days prior.

The flooding destroyed more than 20 motors that power the saws, lathes, drills and planers which are the first step in shaping raw lumber into furniture, founder Charlie Shackleton said Friday morning as he met with a technical consultant from the insurance company to evaluate the damage to the workshop’s computer-run milling machine, the only piece of equipment covered by insurance in the workshop.

Although the 2 feet of water that covered the basement floor was not as deep as the nearly 8 feet of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene that prompted a six-month shutdown, Shackleton nonetheless estimates that after insurance pays for structural damage it will still cost another $125,000 to recover fully, including $80,000 to repair machinery, $10,000 to $15,000 for a new sump pump and at least $20,000 in cleanup costs.

As of Friday, Shackleton’s GoFundMe campaign had raised more than $154,000, exceeding its $125,000 goal.

Expressing gratitude by folding his hands in a prayer, Shackleton acknowledged “we have some well-to-do customers” who have been patronizing his and his wife Miranda Thomas’ pottery studio for decades. But unlike Tropical Storm Irene 12 years ago and the COVID-19 pandemic, “we’re 65 years old. We can’t go borrowing $250,000” to keep going, he explained.

This time Shackleton said he hopes he can get his equipment repaired within three weeks, which his daughter-in-law, furniture maker and assistant manager Clara Shackleton, said means “we can finish the projects we started but can’t begin any new jobs,” as the assembly and finishing stages of furniture making are on the second and third floors of the mill building.

Flood damage is much more severe at the Woodstock Farmers Market, where general manager Brandon Little was standing outside on Friday amid eight steel shipping and rubbish disposal containers filled with equipment salvaged from inside the store and the debris from torn-out walls.

Little said he expects the Woodstock Farmers Market will be closed for two months — a month shorter than after Tropical Storm Irene — but the financial hit will be substantial: $1.5 million to repair and re-equip the physical structure in addition to $1 million per month in lost sales.

He said the damage inside the market did not appear as extensive as happened during Tropical Storm Irene and “water did not get inside the walls,” although the market’s six walk-in refrigeration units will need to be taken apart to be repaired.

Insurance will cover some of the costs, he said, but the market will likely to have to borrow money via bank loans and disaster relief programs to make up the difference and will be tapping savings to meet the biweekly $100,000 payroll at least through another couple pay periods.

Little credited an army of local volunteers who have come to help clean out the market, comprising “high school kids, community members, regular shoppers.” They gutted the whole interior to begin the refurbishing process, he said.

A fundraising campaign was launched at 6 a.m. Friday morning and by Friday afternoon had raised nearly $22,000 from contributors, or about 14% of its $150,000 goal.

“We knew after Irene there would be another flood,” said Little, who noted that was the reason the market relocated its sister store in Waterbury, Vt. “We were just hoping it would be longer than 12 years.”

Down the road at White Cottage, the roadside diner in Woodstock renowned for its whole fried clams, owner John Hurley said his staff probably had cleaned the floor “50 times” in the past 10 days to scrub out the place to get ready for reopening at 5 p.m. Friday.

“We’re going to open ugly, but we’ll be open,” Hurley said, estimating his total damage bill will come to $200,000 to $250,000, of which he expects insurance to cover about $150,000.

But insurance, for example, will not pay for the re-graveling of the parking area, which required 75 truckloads at an average cost of $600 apiece to bring in fill to resurface the lot.

Hurley, who has owned White Cottage for 34 years, said the damage he has suffered this time is not comparable to Tropical Storm Irene, when he had to tear down and completely rebuild the restaurant and which put him out of business for six months.

This summer’s flooding hit at the worst possible time, he said.

“July is my best month, and I’ve lost half of it,” Hurley said, who said he will have to raise prices 10% on food to stem the losses.

Hurley said the Upper Valley is fortunate to have an ethos where businesses help other businesses in distress. He noted the contractor whom he called to resurface his parking area, Stacey Thomson, of Orford, showed up with a bulldozer in three hours. His “cement guy” and carpenter quickly followed up.

“And none of them have asked for a check,” Hurley said.

But there is one group Hurley does not expect will show up.

“Climate change deniers: Come here to my house,” he proposed.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.