Wimberley businesses experiencing economic rebound

It's been more than two years since deadly floods devastated Wimberley. The economic loss for many business that depend on tourism was terrifying. But Wimberley is now thriving after the storm.

The 2015 floods destroyed and damaged homes and businesses throughout Wimberley, drawing both national and local media attention.

"My daughter was graduating. We flooded, and the graduation was Friday night. My dad was flying in from Colorado and he was going to cancel his flight because everything he saw on the news was "Wimberley's gone." And we kept saying - 'it's fine, we're still here!'," said Traci Ferguson, the owner of On a Branch, a lifestyle boutique right off Wimberley Square.

Her shop was flooded in both May and October - forcing her to close for about three weeks total. About 75 percent of their business is derived from tourism, so anything that keeps tourists away affects the bottom line.

"I think it's an ongoing (battle)," Ferguson said, while discussing the public relations surrounding the city.

Fear of an economic downturn was one of the first things then-Mayor Steve Thurber tried to address following the storms.

"We are a sales tax driven community, we have no property taxes. So when a large chunk of your commercial establishments and your sales tax generating businesses were destroyed, we were concerned," Thurber said. 

He now serves as the city's Mayor Pro-Tem, and credited the Chamber of Commerce for spreading a message that despite the devastation, Wimberley as a city survived.

"Since that time, we've had a couple down months of sales tax, about 5-10 percent down from previous years, but outside that, it's just been a steady stream up, which again has been tourism-driven," Thurber said.

"The motto: Wimberley takes care of its own," said Brenda Isgitt, the owner of Kiss The Cook.

On Thursday, her shop was packed as they held a remodeling ribbon-cutting, celebrating their 16th year in business.

"Last summer we had so many people come back to Wimberley, and be enthusiastic and want to be here," said Isgitt, who said sales at her shop dropped 30 percent in 2015, but have rebounded strongly over the past two years.

Kiss The Cook isn't the only shop that has seen a resurgence in business.

Ferguson said it took about a month following the storms for business to return to normal, and many other shops have seen their sales bounce back up.

"I think we're past back to normal.  I'm seeing this year growth, new remodeling," said Rob Pitzer, who owns Pitzer's Fine Arts. 

He's been in business 40 years, the past decade or so in Wimberley. He said much of the initial focus was on re-establishing Wimberley as more than the tragedy.

"A lot of things started popping up, like 'Wimberley Strong.' So the people of this community just stepped and said 'you're not going to defeat us, we're going to make this,'" Pitzer explained.

"It took us down to about a 2012-level of tourism," said Dan Sturdivant, who owned Hill Country Premiere Lodging, a vacation rental company. 

He estimated they lost 28 units from the flooding, a sizeable portion of the nearly 80 rental units lost throughout the city. The loss of those units caused a major loss.

"For us, it was probably about $1 million in revenue," said Sturdivant.

Despite the downturn, Sturdivant said business is not only back to normal - it's ahead-of-pace, and the new units they have rebuild are now more modern than those that were destroyed.

"We're way above pre-flood (business)," Sturdivant said.

Since many of the businesses in Wimberley are locally-owned, many of its owners dealt with the effects from both a personal and business perspective. That was the case for Bob Flocke.

"Well we lost everything in our house, we had four feet of water in our house, so all the furniture and all the interior walls and everything was gone," Flocke said.

While his business was spared of damage, he said it suffered from the economic slow-down in the area.

"Part of that was, the Chamber of Commerce was getting calls 'is Wimberley open?' Because if you looked at the national news coverage, it looked like the whole town was washed away. And those are the kind of calls were were getting," said Flocke.

The storms forced Flocke and his family out of their home for seven and a half months. During that time, they lived in a one-bedroom apartment in New Braunfels, commuting daily to Wimberley.

"We were concerned about where were we going to live, where were going to go, what's going to happen to us, is our insurance going to cover it. And then in the shop downtown, we were mainly worried about the home, so we couldn't concentrate on the business so much. We'd plan on making a buying trip to buy stuff for the shop, couldn't do that that year. Couldn't afford it," said Flocke.

Overall, the floods caused about a 10 percent dip in Flocke's business in 2015.

"(Business has come back), and it's come back bigger each year since," said Flocke

Throughout the city, you'll find tales of woe and heartache. 

But behind them, you'll find stories of not only recovery  - but resurgence.

Wimberley Strong.... now Wimberley Stronger.

© 2017 KVUE-TV


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