Photo: Ronne Kurlancheek and her dog Dolly in her new store.
The day after a powerful tornado destroyed her business in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., last June 13, Ronne Kurlancheek’s employees gave her a pair of ruby slippers and a stuffed Toto in a basket.
“They will be on the counter in my new store when I open,” Kurlancheek said last week with satisfaction in her voice.
“As long as no one got hurt, it was going to be OK,” she said.
Hers was one of about two dozen businesses flattened by the tornado, which ripped through a small section of the eastern Pennsylvania city at 10:30 on a Wednesday night. The businesses were all closed, and no one was around. But most were a total loss. “We were like ground zero,” she said.
Kurlancheek quickly found an empty warehouse with a loading dock, office space and about 1,000 square feet for a temporary showroom. Despite losing all her inventory, she was able to fill and deliver orders she’d taken before the tornado hit. Over the following months, customers continued to find her, although she could accommodate them by appointment only. “We sold something all year – but not much!” she said.
A day to celebrate
Now, she’s ready to celebrate a new day for her 114-year-old business – opening a permanent home in a repurposed automobile factory built in 1920. The old industrial building has been divided into all sorts of small businesses, Kurlancheek said – a floral shop, delicatessen, hair stylist, fitness center and more. Her store has 6,000 square feet, plenty to display her special chandeliers, artwork and home furnishings. She also takes special orders.
“The area has a funky atmosphere,” she said. “The potential for foot traffic is good.”
Her grand opening is set for Thursday – the anniversary of the tornado. The local newspaper published a feature story, and the Greater Wilkes-Barre Chamber of Commerce is holding a ribbon-cutting, signifying the importance of the event marking the new start for one of the area’s oldest businesses.
“The Chamber really likes us,” Kurlancheek said. “We’re like the little engine that could.”
She’s sending thousands of invitations to a party that will stretch over several days and offering a drawing for a $500 gift certificate.
“We could have maybe 500 people here next weekend,” she said. “That’s scary.”
Not really. Not after what she and her employees went through a year ago.
She feels a little like Dorothy. There’s no place like home.
Doug Clark is content manager and government relations liaison for the Home Furnishings Association. Contact him at 916-757-1167 or firstname.lastname@example.org.