Silver Street businesses still open

Published 12:05 am Saturday, May 14, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — U.S. flags are placed on top of the Hesco barriers on Silver Street Friday afternoon in Natchez.

NATCHEZ — Facing the river and holding a Michelob Ultra outside the Under-the-Hill Saloon Friday afternoon, one of the bar’s regulars noted the irony of the state of things on Silver Street.

“It’s sobering,” said Chris Wolfe, before winding his head around to look inside the bar and then at his occupied hand.

“Standing out front the Under-the-Hill Saloon, it’s still sobering watching this,” he repeated.

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT — United States and Natchez flags are placed on top of the Hesco barriers on Silver Street Friday afternoon in Natchez.

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A Hesco container wall blocked the normally unobstructed view of the Mississippi River from the ground-level wooden porch of the oldest settlement on the Mississippi River.

The sand and steal tarp-covered wall had been recently inundated with Under-the-Hill character — river visitors decorated it with American and Mississippi flags.

Wolfe said, like some other regulars, he has recently made special efforts to drop by the Saloon since record-breaking flood levels were predicted.

“I come down whenever I can rub two nickels together,” Wolfe said. “It doesn’t help if you got a business open if there’s nobody to spend money.”

Saloon bartender Ron Burt said even if the instant levees fail, the Saloon will only get water if the river level reaches 65 feet.

The National Weather Service’s crest prediction is 64 feet, which is set to peek next Saturday, but the worry and inconvenience remain below the bluff.

Burt said the bar is open with its normal hours, 10 a.m. until everybody leaves, at least as long as conditions remain safe.

The bar has lately had no cover charges for bands, but solo acts have been performing nightly.

Brandon McCraine started playing guitar and singing at 2:30 p.m. Friday when he came by to set up his equipment.

Burt said business has slowed down since the wall has come up a bit, but he thinks some extra people might be dropping by for the spectacle.

The rocking chairs on the porch have seen more action than usual, he said.

Saloon owner André Farish agreed.

“It’s exciting; that’s what people think,” he said.

He said business at this point in the game has not been very noticeably affected by the flooding.

Inconveniences, like not being able to park in front of the bar because of two-way traffic to unload supplies, are the biggest hassle so far, he said.

“But we’ll work with it; the show goes on,” Farish said.

Burt said the bar has made sure to keep its regulars updated on the situation, and he has lately received lots of phone calls from people checking to see if the saloon is open.

“We’re open,” Farish said.

Closer to the flooded waters, John Parks said Magnolia Grill has suffered some in terms of the number of patrons coming through the restaurant in the past week.

“It’s definitely slower,” Parks said.

He said May is usually one of the best months at the restaurant. In the last week, business has decreased 30 to 40 percent compared to last year at the same time, he said.

Parks credits confusion about whether Silver Street is open to the slacking off of patrons.

“I think people have been misinformed,” he said.

“We are open for business as usual. As long as everything works like it was designed to and as planned, we won’t shut down,” Parks said.

The parking lot is still accessible with the two-way traffic on Silver Street. D.A. Biglane Street remains closed.

Eager explorers should heed barricades blocking foot traffic on the riverside of the Hesco barriers, City Engineer David Gardner said.

Gardner said some of the ground near the water’s edge on Silver Street already shows signs of cracking where soil has been heavily saturated with floodwaters.

“The river is so swift, and if (someone) fell in the river it could easily take them down stream to Woodville, and no one would notice because they’re not easily seen,” Gardner said.

Gardner expects to lose up to a few feet of the bank from erosion, and he warned residents not to stand on the riverside of the wall.

Parks said since the city sealed the sewage lift at the bottom of the hill to prevent river water from entering the Silver Street sewage system, the bathrooms and kitchen are functioning normally.

“We can still serve a full menu, and can still wash pots, pans and dishes,” Parks said.

Parks said his worries about his staff, at least, have subsided since the Federal Emergency Management Agency made Adams County eligible for financial aid in the event the flood does damage Magnolia Grill.

It is natural that many want to visit the restaurant just to see what’s changed with the wall’s construction and the river level, Parks said.

“There are gawkers, like at a car accident,” he said.

Even he cannot look away, Parks said, but for different reasons.

Parks said he has been checking on the river level from behind the Isle of Capri office daily, even several times a day.

“This is my family’s livelihood,” Parks said. “It’s stressful to say the least.”

Parks was thankful to the Biglane family — the family that owns the property Under-the-Hill — for putting up the Hesco wall.

“I owe them a huge debt of gratitude,” Parks said.

If the instant levee were not there or should happen to fail, Parks said Magnolia Grill would get three to four feet of water. Because of the structure of the old brick and mortar on one of supporting walls, that amount of water in the building would be detrimental.

“That will be the end of the restaurant,” Parks said.

For now, Parks wants to keep serving residents and tourists of Natchez as long as possible.

“Unless a safety issues (arises); it’s business as usual,” Parks said.

Parks said observing the collaboration of the Biglanes, Isle of Capri, City of Natchez, Dozier Inc. and Silver Street business owners has been impressive.

And watching the river steadily rise and the wall go up has been a unique sight.

“This is going to be interesting to say the least,” Parks said.

Magnolia Grill is open during its normal hours: 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

Looking at Vidalia from Silver Street, Wolfe, a Hurricane Katrina transplant from New Orleans, spoke from the saloon’s porch with empathy about the conditions across the river.

“Everybody’s packing everything they ever worked for in their life,” he said.

He said part of what keeps him coming back to Silver Street was to see the river’s steady progress as it rises approximately a foot a day.

“That river just don’t want to stop rising; it just keeps on coming up.”