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Thursday, May 26, 2011
Lowe's to rebuild Sanford store
Lowe's to rebuild Sanford store
BY MARTHA QUILLIN
SANFORD -- No telling how many trips Kenneth Hall and his crew would have made to Lowe's Home Improvement over the past 2-1/2 weeks to get materials for the house they're repairing in Sanford that was damaged by the April 16 tornado. If only the tornado hadn't taken out the Lowe's store, too.
"I'll be glad when the Lowe's comes back," Hall said Wednesday, taking a break from cutting new trim for the home's interior.
The Lowe's is coming back. Company officials and local politicians held a groundbreaking Wednesday to celebrate the rebuilding of the store.
Plunging eight brand-new shovels into a pile of loose dirt was entirely ceremonial. The home improvement store was torn down immediately after it was totaled by the tornado, and the site has been a busy pre-construction zone ever since.
The original concrete slab for the store had to be ripped up and replaced. Block for the walls was arriving by the truckload Wednesday morning. At this pace, officials said, the store will open by late fall.
"This is good for the spirit of Sanford," said Mayor Cornelia Olive, who also visited the site in the hours just after the tornado, when the store's front wall was collapsed, much of the roof ripped off and the parking lot full of overturned and battered cars and trucks.
Two people died in Lee County as a result of the tornado, but, thanks to quick action by store employees such as Bobby Gibson and manager Mike Hollowell, no one in the store was seriously hurt. Gibson, Hollowell and others corralled workers and shoppers - nearly 100 people in all - to the back of the building in the seconds before the twister hit the front.
Since the tornado, all 150-plus store employees have taken temporary jobs in other area Lowe's stores.
Gibson is working at the store in Apex now, he said, but is looking forward to getting back to the one in Sanford. The store's loss also is acutely felt by homeowners trying to repair storm damage or just beginning spring spruce-ups. Though there are building supply stores in town, the next big-box home improvement stores are 30 minutes away.
Although not a local gathering place, the store was the scene of many impromptu meetings, as people came in on Saturdays or Sundays to pick up materials for a plumbing repair or to peruse the petunia selection.
After the tornado, people throughout Sanford talked about how lucky they were not to have been in the store when it hit, having been there earlier in the day or expecting to go there later that afternoon.
"This is a piece of the community gone, not just a store," Gibson said. "The quicker they get this going, the quicker the healing process for the whole community."
The rebuilding is bringing welcome jobs as Lowe's hires local contractors to do some of the work.
The new store will have 103,000 square feet of indoor retail space with an adjacent 34,000-square-foot garden center. Company officials said the store will cost more than $10 million.
Elsewhere in Sanford, recovery is hit-and-miss. In the neighborhood where Hall was working Wednesday, for every house under renovation, there was one with the windows boarded up and the grass growing wild. A few miles away, the St. Andrews subdivision is a sea of blue tarps as homeowners await roof repairs.
Tractor Supply and Big Lots, in a shopping center across the street from Lowe's that also was badly damaged by the twister, show no signs of rebuilding yet.
But Olive, the mayor, said the storm had done some good, spurring people to volunteer. Last weekend, she said, 200 people turned out to help clean up a neighborhood near downtown and do minor repairs to nearly two dozen houses there. And the tornado didn't even go through that area.