Sandy and Geff Lee’s small businesses in downtown Nashville have weathered a lot this year, but after the Christmas morning explosion, rebuilding may not be possible without some help.
Residents awoke to news of an intentional explosion of a recreational vehicle. The impact ripped into Second Avenue, a street full of historic buildings. Some 41 businesses in the area were damaged.
The year has been a challenge for many small businesses throughout the country, as well as Nashville, as owners have fought tirelessly for survival during the deadly coronavirus pandemic.
“As you can see, what was, is no more,” Geff Lee wrote on Facebook. “It’s senseless and heartbreaking. It’s memories, hopes and dreams. It’s hard work, it’s risk and it’s loss. And on Christmas morning, it all came tumbling down…”
The couple has owned Simply the Best, a trinket and souvenir store frequented by tourists, since 2011 and moved their Ensemble Nashville boutique next door in March.
Peter Gibson, owner of Pride and Glory Tattoo, is their neighbor on the same street and his business also suffered significant damage.
“This year’s been tough,” Gibson told CNN’s Natasha Chen. “It’s obviously been a little down compared to normal. But right when we get a little light at the end of the tunnel, it all goes away in two seconds.”
Owners are hopeful for government aid. In the meantime, GoFundMe accounts are helping businesses and employees.
Trying to make sense of the devastation
Sandy Lee told CNN they were shocked by photographs of the damage and they had to use a map to identify their own businesses. She said they haven’t been able to see their businesses yet and won’t be able to for 7-10 days and only if the buildings are stable.
“From the angles and pictures we were getting first, we were trying to count stores, trying to recognize something from the iconic old buildings,” she said. “We were trying to count back.”
Explosion rocks downtown Nashville
The day after the explosion, the pair thought their businesses were done. But after seeing feedback from community members and past customers, it has made them think they could rebuild, according to Sandy.
“We lived on savings this year, we’ve made sure staff is working and paid as much as we can, we’ve paid all our bills and rent. We own all our inventory, well, what’s left of it and you know, made sacrifices to make sure it was open every day so staff could work, because they need money.”
Both Gibson and the Lees shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic for a few months and reopened at the start of summer. But they haven’t seen the volume of customers to which they were accustomed.
“There’s nothing about this that can make sense,” Gibson said. “Just trying to wrap my head around each piece of it. Like I keep saying, one foot in front of the other, just trying to take day by day, moment by moment.”
How to help
Even though GIbson and the Lees have lost the better part of their buildings, with the encouragement of others, they say they’re determined to rebuild.
“It would seem appropriate to have some federal help in getting these businesses back on their feet,” Mayor John Cooper said on CNN’s “New Day.”
What that federal aid could look like is unclear at this point.
Project 615, a Nashville-based philanthropic apparel brand, is selling “Nashville Strong” T-shirts, donating 100% of the profits from sales to small businesses affected by the explosion.
So far, the company has collected $50,000, according to owner Ryan Kroon.
The shirt is a redesign from last March, when the company sold a similar shirt donating proceeds to victims of a series of tornadoes that ripped through the city.
“We wanted to be the first to raise our hand to help, Kroon said. “The response has been crazy, it’s blown me away.”
All of the Lees’ merchandise was in their storefronts but Sandy Lee said she found a few of their custom-made Nashville bracelets and has been selling them on Ensemble’s website. All proceeds go directly to the Lee family and their employees.
Additionally, a GoFundMe has been set up to support the couple and Gibson’s Pride and Glory Tattoo.
CNN’s Natasha Chen contributed to this report.