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Many Detroit businesses left reeling from the flood

Courtesy of Adrena Sasser

The water from heavy rainfall that filled the workshop where Nikki’s Ginger Tea brews and bottles its signature drinks has receded, but not without causing long term damage to the bottled beverage company. 

“The water was waist high,” said Adrena Sasser, CEO of the beverage company that operates out of the basement of Church of the Messiah in Detroit’s Islandview neighborhood. “We lost everything. All of our equipment, our stoves, refrigerators, freezer boxes, everything.” 

Sasser took over management of the company from her mother, its namesake, who launched the businesses 25 years ago. 

“We survived all of the decline of the 2000s when Detroit completely fell apart. All of the businesses were leaving and closing. People's homes were getting foreclosed on,” she said. “Nikki's Ginger Tea survived all of that.” 

Then, Sasser steered the company through the pandemic, only to be hit with the flood. The water caused so much damage to the floor of the church basement that she estimates it’ll take months to repair, leaving her without a place to operate her businesses. 

“I'm just scrambling to see if we can find somewhere within the next week where we can start manufacturing to keep our stores with products. All of the work we've done over all of these years to get these bigger accounts,” she said, adding that Nikki’s Ginger Tea is available in several area groceries, “To lose accounts on top of all of this would be catastrophic.”

Sasser said she’s working on filing insurance claims as well as putting in requests for support to the City of Detroit. 

Credit Courtesy of Lee Padgett
Lee Padgett, of Busted Bra Shop, inside one of her stores.

Lee Padgett of Busted Bra shop is working through the same process after finding rainwater covered the floor of her flagship store in Detroit’s Jefferson Chalmers neighborhood on Saturday. 

“When I got in, I saw all of our pink rugs were just soaking wet,” she said.

Rainwater that filled the streets around her shop streamed into the shop, Padgett said, but since her business doesn’t include space below ground, it was spared the damage faced by other retailers in the area. 

A computer and an internet router were ruined by the water, and will have to be replaced, but, Padgett said, “It's not an overwhelming amount of damage that we took on. We were able to wash a lot of the curtains. We are washing the rugs, having them done professionally.” 

The shop was able to open on Sunday and welcome customers who stopped in to pick up special orders and layaway items, which reminded Padgett of the sense of community that drew her to start a small business in the first place. 

Bunny Bunny, an Asian restaurant in Detroit’s Eastern Market neighborhood, had just welcomed guests for it’s first night of in-person dining on Friday when rain began to intensify. Having opened in the midst of the pandemic, co-owner Justin Tootla said he and his business partner opted to remain take-out only to avoid having to address staff fluctuations with the shifting policies around in-person dining.  

Bunny Bunny’s staff had just finished cleaning when the power cut out around 2:30 a.m. on Saturday morning. The restaurant didn’t have power until Monday afternoon. 

Tootla says they packed coolers with dry ice, but in the end, he said they lost more than $4000 in ingredients. 

“Our inventory was completely wiped out [of] all of our perishable foods,” Tootla said. “We don't have any investors, we don't really have a safety net. We're kind of just [operating] week to week and day to day, so when something like this happens, we don't really have the resources to recover fully from it. We kind of have to slowly piece it together.”

He and his team fanned out to purchase more ingredients — including many specialty items which have to be ordered or purchased from stores spread across the metro-area — in order to return to re-open this week. 

“For a small business,” he said, “It's pretty devastating.”

Beenish Ahmed is Michigan Public's Criminal Justice reporter. Since 2016, she has been a reporter for WNYC Public Radio in New York and also a freelance journalist. Her stories have appeared on NPR, as well as in The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, VICE and The Daily Beast.
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