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Forest Lake Fabrics wins recovery award

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In the nights following the devastating flood of 2015, Michael Marsha sat on the porch of his Lake Katherine home, listening to the silence.

“It was pretty eerie,” Marsha said. “It was totally dark. No one was driving by.”

The historic flood of 2015 destroyed Forest Lake Fabrics. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo) With both his home, which took on a foot of water, and his gutted business, Forest Lake Fabrics, now fully recovered, Marsha’s travel plans are picking up.

Marsha will head to Washington, D.C. in April to accept the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Phoenix Award, presented for outstanding small business disaster recovery.

SBA Administrator Linda McMahon announced awards in 14 categories on Tuesday.

“It is my pleasure and honor to present these awards during National Small Business Week to these organizations who demonstrate what is possible,” McMahon said in a news release. “My goal is to help more of our nation's small business owners be aware of the resources available to them through the SBA.”

Marsha credited the SBA, along with the support of the Forest Acres community, for helping the fabric business founded in 1964 rise from the waters.

“You think the government’s hell to work with, but SBA was incredible. They really bent over backwards to get me back in business,” Marsha said. “It definitely helped ease the pain.”

For several days in October 2015, tropical downpours stalled over sections of South Carolina, dumping as much as two feet of rain on some regions in two days. A National Weather Service report from July 2016 estimated damages from the storm at $1.5 billion and put the death toll at 19.

Seventeen inches of rain fell along Gills Creek on Oct. 4 alone. Marsha’s store, on Forest Drive at Gills Creek, suffered extensive damage. The water destroyed the back wall of the building and smashed its front windows, ruining $1 million in uninsured inventory, Marsha said.

“We had never even come close to the parking lot gathering water,” Marsha said. “It was a phenomenal event that happened with the rain and the dam breaks, but life goes on. I had plenty of family and friends that were in the direct path of this water. Everybody survived and that was the most important thing, that I didn’t lose any family members over this, or friends.”

Slowly, Marsha rebuilt his store, fortifying the two-story, 14,000-square-foot building with concrete and steel up to seven feet from the ground and topping it with an additional three feet of brick veneer. The building’s concrete flooring was covered with wood laminate, and reinforced windows were added to the second floor.

The total cost to repair and upgrade the 50-year-old building was around $350,000, Marsha said.

“We had to go back to the metal studs,” said Marsha, who also added improvements such as handicapped-accessible bathrooms. “I don’t want to say it was a blessing in a disguise, but we do have a nicer facility now.”

Before the store reopened in August 2016, Marsha operated out of nearby satellite office, selling fabric from samples. Support from the community never wavered, he said.

“Once we got back in the building, it was just the greatest feeling in the world,” Marsha said. “People would stop by (and say) ‘We’re not here to buy fabric; we’re just here to see the new store.’ That made me feel just as good.”

A recent middle-of-the-night thunderstorm brought the flood back to Marsha’s mind, but he’s reminded daily of how far he’s come.

“We’re back to normal,” he said. “As long as we don’t have a 10-inch rainstorm, I think we’ll be all right.”

Contact Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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