By Marc Rapport
Sheree Smith knew there was trouble when she woke up that Sunday morning last October and saw footage of Coplon’s clothing store under water. After all, her little shop occupied a space in the back of that building, just a few feet from Gills Creek, when the creek was within its banks.
She was right. “We were as close to the flood as anybody,” said the owner of The Picture Place, a custom framing shop she bought from the original owners in 1994. Three days passed before Smith could even get in the shop and look around, and there was still a foot of water in it then.
“It blew out our windows, pushed the counter against the back wall and destroyed all our equipment,” Smith said. “If we had been in there ourselves, we would have died.”
She didn’t, and neither did her business. Powered by adrenaline and financing, Smith went to work. The Picture Place was soon up and operating in a new home, in the Bi-Lo shopping center off Forest Drive, and in a bit of irony, Smith is back in the gallery business and back in debt.
“I had been running galleries when I decided I just wanted to frame. That’s why I bought this business in the first place,” she said. Now she’s a gallery operator again, displaying work from 20 to 50 local artists at a time, Smith said, since she has more space now than she did in her old shop.
“I’m in debt again, too. I wasn’t before the flood,” she said. That’s because the flood caused her $102,000 in damage, including destroying an automated mat cutter that was worth $40,000 alone.
“I started over again from scratch, all the way down to the pencils,” Smith said. She also had to rebuild her customer base, and she got some serious encouragement along the way. “People came by and just dropped off stuff we could use, and that included cash,” she said. “I got $100 bills given to me right and left. The community was just so supportive.”
That included people whose artwork, in the shop for framing, were destroyed by the floodwaters. Smith said only two customers were upset with her over it, including one who threatened to sue. “FEMA, the SBA, my lawyer friends, they all said I couldn’t be sued over that, so that made me feel better,” she said.
Besides learning who here friends are, Smith learned something else. “Watercolors can handle a flood better than a lot of things, it seems like,” she said. There were a few among the dozen pieces she was able to salvage from the two feet of mud and glass in her shattered shop. “I think they might have just floated,” she said.
And like the apocryphal steeple that stands after the church burns down, there was still one painting standing on an easel that somehow stood through the flood. Smith said it was behind the only window that survived, so maybe that was the reason it made it.
Oddly enough, that piece soon disappeared from the store. “I was thinking, did someone seriously come in and steal something from here?” Smith said. “But then right before I opened in the new location, the artist who painted it came and said she had gone and gotten it and now wanted to donate it to me!”