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'We cannot in good conscience rebuild': Ellicott City business owner says she won't be back on Main Street

After a historic flood hit Ellicott City Sunday, the owner of a coffee shop decided it was time to move from the store’s longtime home on Main Street.

On Wednesday, Gretchen Shuey, 48, the owner of Bean Hollow, announced on Facebook that she would be closing the shop’s Ellicott City location.

“After a lot of soul searching and a lot of heartbreak, we feel that as badly as we want to come back, we cannot in good conscience rebuild in E.C. I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to one of my staff as a result of a flood, and there is nothing that can be done to fix the flood problem in the near future,” she wrote in a Facebook post.

She’s one of many business owners in Ellicott City who are grappling with whether to rebuild once again.

Some said they’d be back for sure, while others quickly launched fundraiser efforts to see if they could make the numbers work. Still others like Shuey questioned whether coming back, even if possible, would be the right move.

Many didn’t have flood insurance, while those who did wondered if it would be enough.

Jereme Scott of Cotton Duck Art & Apparel also decided not to reopen, saying nothing has been done yet to fix the flooding problem.

Kitty Morgan, who owned the Summer of Love hippie shop, did not have insurance and doubts whether she’ll be able to raise enough to rebuild. As of Friday, her GoFundMe page had pledges of $1,000 toward a $50,000 goal.

Linda Jones, the owner of Tea on the Tiber, had insurance, but said it would not cover all her losses. She also said she doesn’t feel right asking the community for a second time in less than two years.

But other stores, including women’s apparel store Sweet Elizabeth Jane, Linwood Boutique and gourmet grocer Park Ridge Trading Co., already are making plans to reopen.

Shuey said it’s just too much. She feels guilty — like she’s “abandoning ship.” But she knows it’s for the best.

She plans to reopen in Catonsville, where she and her family live. But it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

Shuey began working at the coffee shop on Main Street in the ’90s, after she graduated from college. Years later, when the owner wanted to sell, she worked an extra job from 6 a.m. till noon to save money to buy it. It was the place where she met her husband, who was a customer at the time. She’d bring in a car seat for her kids from the time they were infants.

“Many customers tell me it’s their safe place,” said Shuey. “Ironic.”

After the 2016 flood, Shuey had reservations about reopening in the same location, but she pressed on with the help of neighbors.

“We had people donate cash. I had customers who don’t drink coffee and they built my cabinets. Companies donated tile for the bathroom floors,” she said. “It’s the only way we could manage it and keep our children living in their homes.”

She was overwhelmed by the generosity during the year she and her husband spent rebuilding.

“I spent more time crying out of gratitude than I spent crying out of despair,” she said.

Still, she was terrified of a repeat. Every time it rained, every time she saw lightning or heard thunder, Shuey said, she’d panic. She’d go on her cellphone, watching the cameras she and her husband installed near the shop to watch. If the worst happened, she’d get her people out safely.

The 911 call that summer from her employees, she said, was one of the worst the call center received. “Listening to it was devastating to me,” Shuey wrote later on Facebook. “I never got over it, and just typing this makes me cry.”

One of her good friend’s daughters was working that night. What if something had happened to her, Shuey thought.

And then it happened again. The other shoe dropped. A flood hit Sunday that many said was even more destructive than in 2016, what most had assumed was “a freak storm,” said Shuey.

In the dark, Shuey dug out the shop’s change safe with her hands from a foot and a half of mud. Her mom and a friend spent hours washing off the change locked inside of it – pennies, nickels, dimes.

There’s a deluge of stuff to worry about. Health insurance, retirement. Credit card bills for goods that were lost in the flood. “For many of us down there, this is our primary income,” she said. “At the end of it you’re just like ‘Ugh.’ ”

After spending all day wading through muck, she comes home to two boys, ages 9 and 13.

“They need love, and they need normal, and they need homework and they need to go to baseball games,” she said. “And that’s the hardest part, is maintaining some facade of normalcy.”

On Facebook, people have been commenting, “We want you back in Ellicott City,” Shuey said, which she finds shocking.

“I just think: ‘How?’” She and her husband “can’t fathom rebuilding.”

At the same time, she admits, “I have a sense of relief in a way, because I have been anticipating this.” She can let go of the anxiety that it will happen again — because it did.

ctkacik@baltsun.com

twitter.com/xtinatkacik

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