GULFPORT, Miss. (BP)–The LifeWay Christian Store in Gulfport, Miss., reopened Dec. 8 amid great anticipation from customers and employees.
“Normalcy never looked so good,” said Alicia Lowery, manager of the store in a region still in the throes of Hurricane Katrina’s destruction. Three LifeWay stores in Mississippi and Louisiana were closed by the storm.
“Customers have been calling and coming by hoping that we are open,” Lowery said. “Some are struggling with what to do about Christmas gifts this year. Some need to replace their Bibles that were destroyed by the water. Churches need complete communion sets because theirs were destroyed. We are excited about reopening to meet their needs.”
Lowery evacuated the Gulfport store before Katrina hit on Aug. 29. When she was allowed to return to the area a week and a half later, she expected to find sobering evidence of the storm surge. To her surprise, the building was still intact.
“We had external damage and a hole on the side of the building that allowed rain and wind to destroy everything inside, including the merchandise,” Lowery said. “I was just thankful that the store was still there.”
Overseeing the store repairs and working with contractors has been a new experience for the 30-year-old store manager. In addition to making sure her own house received a new roof, Lowery has spent the last three months overseeing construction and ordering new merchandise for the store.
“We literally had to start over,” said Mick Houston, regional director of LifeWay Christian Stores central region. “We had to reorder the entire store and have been receiving those shipments the past few weeks.” Among other challenges, the post office and other carriers have not been able to maintain a guaranteed, consistent schedule — packages can take days to arrive.
“There was a time when I wondered if the store would ever again be like it was,” Lowery said. “Then the painters came. It was amazing. That was the light at the end of the tunnel. The store looks beautiful, painted and with merchandise on the shelves. Especially compared to what it used to look like after the storm, it just looks beautiful.”
“The staff has been wonderful,” Houston said. “Many of them have been trying to get their own houses back together and deal with the storm situation, but they have been here every day working.”
The Gulfport LifeWay Christian Store opened much faster than other area businesses because “the churches need us,” Houston said. “We are a ministry tool and they need our support.”