First came the ice storm. Then came the power crews. Now comes the spending boom.
After a storm pummeled Augusta harder than any other area in Georgia, local businesses are starting to rake in the thousands of dollars that come with winter weather survival and repair.
Among those that received hefty paydays were restaurants, food marts, gas stations, grocery stores, hotels, equipment centers, roofing companies and tree removers.
“We are getting our behinds kicked,” Jeff McGahee, the owner of Harry’s Equipment Center on Bobby Jones Expressway, said of the boom in business Friday as he sharpened a chain saw blade.
McGahee said his business stocked shelves ahead of the storm, but when it reopened Thursday after being closed a day, the 10 generators and 100 chain saws on hand sold in a half-hour.
The store has sharpened and sold more than 600 chains in the past week, and 50 cases of mixed fuel and oil.
The business got a shipment of 100 generators and chain saws Friday. By late afternoon, all the chain saws and 60 of the generators had been bought, forcing the business to order 300 more.
“It is by far one of the worst storms I have seen,” McGahee said. “At least twice as bad as the 2004 ice storm.”
Without phone and Internet service, McGahee said his staff, which has 20 workers to handle storm orders, was working off old credit card sliders to process orders.
“We’re basically dropping everything to fix people’s problems,” McGahee said. “We’re here and plan to work as long as it takes to get people what they need.”
Bob Stevens Jr., a co-owner of Southern Roofing and Insulation, estimates it might take several weeks of work to help those most affected.
The 81-year-old roofing business reopened Friday after being closed two days, and Stevens said the calls about tree limbs puncturing roofs were nonstop.
His team of 35 workers placed tarps over roof holes across its coverage area, which runs from Waynesboro to Aiken, but it will have to wait for insurance adjusters to assess damages before claims can be processed and repairs started.
Stevens expects many people to fully replace roofs, which he estimated could cost between $6,000 and $15,000 depending on a house’s size.
“People are trying to get it done all at once, but it is just one of those things that you’re going to have to wait out,” Stevens said. “A lot of our work orders will probably pick up next week after trees are cleared and insurance companies have assessed homes.”
According to the Insurance Information Institute, winter storms are the third-largest cause of catastrophe losses, behind hurricanes and tornadoes. In 2012, the institute reported that the insurance industry as a whole paid $38 million in winter storm losses to policyholders, after paying more than $2 billion in 2011.
The main obstacle is restoring power and ridding the area of downed and denuded trees.
Ian Campbell, an arborist and the manager of Bartlett Tree Experts of Augusta, said the removal business has received hundreds of calls since Wednesday morning.
To handle the high volume, the company brought in tree removal crews from as far north as New York and expects to have 40 linemen and 10 to 15 teams working the area.
Campbell warned the public to make sure tree removers are licensed as fly-by-night contractors tend to flock areas in most need of services, which can range in cost from $200 to $1,200.
“There is an incredible demand right now and the safety hazard to the public is enormous,” Campbell said. “We are doing our best to help people at least live safely under these canopies that have been dangling over their heads for the past few days.”
As many as 2,500 out-of-state power crews continue to work the area, filling hotels and restaurants to capacity as residents join them in search of food, shelter and warmth.
Ten out-of-state linemen from Pike Electric barely made the final call at Buffalo Wild Wings on Thursday in west Augusta, pulling up six minutes before closing.
Their orders capped a night in which the restaurant on Robert C. Daniel Jr. Parkway sold between 1,000 and 1,500 pounds of wings in seven hours, possibly eclipsing the total served earlier this month on Super Bowl Sunday.
The linemen were given a discounted meal, assistant general manager Brian Dubbs said.
“Half the staff couldn’t make it, but the entire town showed up,” Dubbs said of the rush for a hot meal, some warmth and a little TV. “Every table was filled with a line of people waiting at the door.”
Down Washington Road, Bojangle’s, Waffle House and Dunkin’ Donuts locations benefited as nearby Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s and Krispy Kreme stores had to wait into the weekend before getting power restored.
Josh Nolan and his wife, Lindsey, waited 45 minutes for food Thursday at Burger King on Wrightsboro Road after their power was knocked out and a branch poked a 2-foot hole in their kitchen’s roof.
The Nolans said they first went inside, but after seeing there was limited standing room, they hopped in the drive-through line. When they pulled up to order, they learned the fast-food restaurant was down to only chicken products.
“I was very pleased by that news,” said Nolan, a nuggets fan.
At Circle K on Walton Way at Crawford Avenue, snacks and groceries were gone not long after the ice storm began to dump freezing rain and sleet Tuesday, manager Barbara Broddie said.
While the store’s fuel supply held up well despite three days of nonstop lines, the shop had to wait until Friday to receive a new shipment of snacks, soft drinks and groceries.
“The rush started Tuesday and has not let up since,” Broddie said. “Customers at one point couldn’t get in the parking lot. It was a disaster.”