Vidalia businesses are bouncing back

Published 12:15 am Sunday, May 29, 2011

ERIC SHELTON | THE NATCHEZ DEMOCRAT Vidalia Veterinary Clinic’s Chaise Nations pets one of the dogs inside of the clinic’s temporary location at the Natchez Stockyard on River Terminal Road in Natchez Friday afternoon. The clinic moved to Natchez due to the threat of the Mississippi River flood.

NATCHEZ — While the Mississippi River flood flushed out a few Vidalia customers, some shop owners found a way to stay open for business.

While some businesses closed altogether, other businesses moved across the bridge and at least one just moved their merchandise.

Dr. Debbie Guillory and her daughter, Dr. Veronica Smith, are a mother/daughter veterinary team who own and operate Miss-Lou Veterinary Hospital in Vidalia.

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As floodwaters made their way toward the Miss-Lou, Guillory knew she could not close the clinic, but she also could not stay there.

So Guillory and her team packed up the clinic, and critters, and moved to a sale barn at the Natchez Stockyards on River Terminal Road.

“My daughter orchestrated the lease of sale barn from Jerard and Dixie Allen, who have been nothing but really good to us,” Guillory said. “My daughter and a group of staff members came and cleaned it because the barn was closed for years, and now it’s in remarkably good shape.”

Guillory said the clinic is still at the stockyards, and she has not set a deadline for return to the Vidalia location. She took advantage of the empty clinic and gave it a makeover.

“I decided to clean and repaint the clinic while we were out,” Guillory said. “We’re probably going to start cleaning and freshening it next week. Then we will make a plan to go back.”

Guillory said even though the levees have held and the city has not flooded, if she had it to do all over again, she would.

“I never thought in my heart the levees would break,” Guillory said. “But I started worrying. I thought if it broke in the middle of the night and flooded, the animals would lose their life because they were in cages.”

Guillory said calls to the clinic were forwarded to the staffs’ cell phones.

“Everyone pitched in and did extra,” Guillory said. “I have the best staff ever. They are not just employees, but a family.”

Owner of the Vidalia Pawn Shop Finley W. Hootsell reviews the shop at its temporary location on John R. Junkin Drive in Natchez Friday afternoon. Hootsell moved items from his Vidalia store to his Natchez store due to the threat of the Mississippi River flood.

But Guillory said she has taken a financial hit. She said she called vendors and told them she might need a little extra time on payments.

“But I am just glad God held the river back,” she said. “We’re just dealing with it.”

“What it comes down to, I am able to sleep knowing the animals are safe. I’m ready to get back to the clinic, but this has worked really well. If I could wiggle my nose and be back, I would, but we’ll take it one day at a time.”

Finley Hootsell, who owns and operates Concordia Pawn and Gun Shop and Natchez Pawn, knew he had a place to go. Hootsell temporarily relocated his Vidalia business to his location in Natchez when the river began rising.

“We moved all of the sale merchandise and pledge merchandise, which is other people’s property, records and computers to the Natchez shop so we could continue to operate, serve customers and protect their interests as well,” Hootsell said.

Hootsell said the predicted crest played a major role in his decision.

“I’ve lived here all my life, and never seen the river this high and no one else has either,” Hootsell said. “I didn’t think it was wise or prudent to take a chance with my business or my customers.

“This was not cheap. It cost me about $10,000 straight out of my pocket. But that’s part of being in business.”

Hootsell said he has not moved back into the Vidalia location yet.

“I’m going to wait until we get back into that 57, 58-foot level,” Hootsell said. “I don’t think it’s wise to jump back over too quickly, especially after what we went through to move everything. I do have flood insurance, but it was much better to have everything out of harm’s way than to hash through it, rebuild and satisfy all the people involved.”

He said the Natchez store is currently packed with merchandise.

“Before we moved anything from Vidalia, we arranged, cleaned, added shelves and fixtures (to the Natchez store) to make transition easy,” Hootsell said.

Hootsell said he rearranged employee schedules as well, even though keeping extra employees on the payroll is another expense.

“We will be definitely be back in Vidalia as quickly as possible,” he said. “Some of the shelves here in Natchez are bulging with merchandise.”

Holly Chauvin, co-owner of Rhino Graphics in Vidalia, said she and her husband Lawrence did not want to close entirely, but they also did not want to risk losing their inventory.

They came up with a solution that kept the company open for business without risking a total loss.

“We just had too much retail inventory in the front to risk being damaged if levees were to break,” Chauvin said. “Our overall conception was, it’s safe, but why risk it? So we moved it while we had the chance.

“We never lost a day of work. But some of our man-hours usually spent on production were spent on packing things up.”

Chauvin said they moved their inventory to Natchez. She said the entrance to the Vidalia business looks like they are closing, which is a little confusing to customers.

“People come in and ask, ‘Where is everything? Are you still open?’” Chauvin said. “This is our livelihood. We never shut our doors or ceased production.”

Chauvin said the inventory will be moved back to the store in about a week.

She said the flood has affected them economically, just like it has everyone else.

“I think the flood impacted future orders, and we moved current orders up earlier,” Chauvin said. “Everyone’s lives have been turned upside down. But day to day, you do what you can.”