- Associated Press - Sunday, December 3, 2017

TULSA, Okla. (AP) - Woodcraft owner Allan Chaney provided a blunt forecast for his store in the immediate aftermath of an EF2 tornado that decimated his business. Not opening by Nov. 1 would make for a tough year.

“If I can’t get open by Christmas, we’re dead,” he told the Tulsa World .

It’s been nearly four months since the Aug. 6 tornado that damaged or destroyed 129 businesses and 19 homes stretching from Harvard Avenue to Mingo Road.

And it looks like Chaney will avoid the death knell. Woodcraft is on schedule to open in mid-December in a new location about half a mile east of its previous location. He hopes to have signs on the building sometime soon.

“I missed Black Friday - that would have been nice,” Chaney said, adding that the build-out is taking a bit longer than initially projected.

Chaney was able to recover about 70 percent of his inventory and equipment from inside his storm-damaged store. His new location, formerly Mike’s Liquidation Outlet, won’t require him to start from scratch.

“Most people don’t realize how much work it is to start a brick-and-mortar retail store from scratch,” he said. “Luckily, this time around I’ve got a crew of guys who know how to run a store and what it’s supposed to look like.”

Chaney would have celebrated 16 years at his previous location in October if “the storm hadn’t blown it away,” he added.

Woodcraft isn’t the only business about to reopen as the 2017 holiday shopping season kicked off last week.

Several businesses in the path of the tornado are showing signs of recovery from a storm that resulted in 10 businesses’ buildings initially being condemned. CarTec, Panera, TGI Fridays, Vintage Stock, Whataburger and Woodcraft were deemed unsafe in the immediate aftermath of the storm.

Drive past the area today, and you can see ongoing renovations juxtaposed with damaged or demolished storefronts.

Panera is set to reopen at 6 a.m. Tuesday as exterior work to the building is nearing completion. The restaurant had significant structural damage with minimal interior damage, local Panera spokeswoman Erin Barnhart said, but it has undergone a full remodel inside.

“We’ve refreshed the look and functionality of the café,” Barnhart said.

Instead of separate café and bakery registers, customers can order and pick up their food at the same spot. The drink area and coffee bar have been enlarged.

The first 100 customers on Tuesday will receive a free baguette and a coupon for a loaf of bread.

“We’ve made the best of a bad situation,” Barnhart said.

Auto repair shop CarTec, on the west side of the building that also houses the Panera, was closed for about two months before it reopened.

The future of the TGI Fridays is uncertain, as the property remains damaged with no apparent ongoing renovations. The company’s corporate office could not be reached for comment.

Next door to Fridays is an empty spot where Vintage Stock was located. The plan is for that space to be rebuilt, and officials with the Joplin-based entertainment retailer said the store should reopen in May or June.

The location is one of the chain’s smallest of its 58 stores but one of the top performers in sales since it opened in 2000, said Steve Wilcox, vice president. While the store is on track to reopen, Wilcox said things have not gone smoothly.

Initial plans called for the store to relocate to a temporary location in the same shopping center, but that idea was scrapped.

“We have insurance to cover the loss of sales,” Wilcox said. “We were disappointed because we lost the customer base. They’ve found other options, so it won’t be easy to get back on our feet when we reopen.”

The Whataburger, which suffered severe roof damage while late-night customers were eating, has been razed, leaving an empty plot of land with a “for lease” sign.

The Chipotle reopened about a week ago, and officials said business is doing well. The adjacent Starbucks is set to open in the first part of next year, according to a company spokeswoman.

The building housing the two quick-service restaurants sits just north of Interstate 44 and sustained major structural damage.


Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com

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