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Back in Business: Forest Lake Fabrics rebuilds, reinforces, re-opens

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From Oct. 10, 2016 print issue of the Columbia Regional Business Report

By Marc Rapport

Contributing Writer

A thousand-year flood couldn’t put a 50-year-old shop out of business. Not when it’s Michael Marsha and the legion of friends and family who helped Forest Lake Fabrics come back from the brink.

The store was gutted by the rush of water during the early morning hours of Oct. 4, an onslaught that ruined more than a million dollars in high-end fabrics, some of it memorably hanging like grim confetti on trees in the Gregg Park neighborhood’s wetlands across Forest Drive.

Michael Marsha rebuilt Forest Lake Fabrics with the help of friends. (Photo/Chuck Crumbo)None of it was salvageable. The building itself – its inventory replaced by railroad ties, logs and mud – might also have been deemed beyond repair. But not to Marsha and those who believed and invested in him, with financial and sweat equity alike.

The immediate cleanup was accomplished with the help of his friend and contractor, Ryan Horton of Indigo Construction, neighborhood friends, the F3Group of local volunteers, and even about 50 couples who came down from Charlotte. “There were so many people, they even went into the surrounding neighborhood looking for more people to help,” Marsha said. “That was the first time I cried.”

The cleanup accomplished, Marsha secured SBA-backed financing for resuscitating the business his father opened in 1964 in the building it had occupied since 1994. Forest Lake Fabrics re-opened this summer in the same spot but with a very different structure.

The shell remains, now sitting on a concrete-and-steel base more than 6 feet above the flood plain with storm-shield doors and sump pumps, all designed to send the next flood around instead of through the building.

Marsha grew up here and has seen his share of Gill Creek overflows, although nothing like this. While floods are considered acts of God by insurers, he knows this one was man-made, too.

“This was the result of 50 years of development in the Gills Creek watershed and four dams that broke that should not have. They weren’t properly regulated,” he said. In fact, Marsha said, as the storm was approaching, he called all the lake associa-tions along the urbanized waterway to urge them to lower their pools, but said for most, it was too little too late.

Marsha’s faith has helped him weather the challenges. “My faith in God also got me through this,” Marsha said. “I’m Ro-man Catholic and like many, I used to just go on Easter and Mother’s Day, but now I talk to Him every day and He gets me through. His help is how we got this all back together.”

Marsha’s daughter, Stephanie, has come home from Atlanta, where she was managing an apparel showroom, to rejoin Marsha and his wife, Ginger, who serves as head designer and head buyer for the shop, which specializes in high-end home décor fabrics.

They’ve also expanded their inventory to include furniture, lamps and other accessories. The inside sales force has now grown, too, to five people, but the advice is still free. “They can tell you what would look good with what, draperies and walls, bedspreads, anything like that. And you don’t have to pay $150 an hour for that,” Marsha said.

Marsha, 60, said that the decision to rebuild and re-open was an easy one. “The fabric business is the only thing I know. What else would I do? I might retire in 10 years or so, but who knows? I don’t mind work.”

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