Hardware stores are used to helping people solve problems with their homes. However, with the increasing rate of natural disasters like wildfires, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes—not to mention a deadly pandemic—hardware retailers everywhere are being called on to provide an extraordinary level of service above and beyond what they might normally expect.
On August 10, a powerful line of intense windstorms known as a derecho tore through much of Iowa, packing winds up to 140 mph. The path of destruction extended to Illinois, Ohio, Indiana and Minnesota.
“Tornado sirens started going off and the weather report said that a severe storm was coming with 50 to 60 mph winds. We could see it was a lot worse than that,” recalls Mike Lauderdale, who owns Edgewood Do it Best Hardware & Rental in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, along with his wife Kellie. “Our sign was swaying back and forth. We could see cars were rocking back and forth.”
The incredible force of the wind kept blowing the front doors open, so employees and customers worked together in the howling wind to barricade the front door. Four or five customers chose to stay inside the store to ride out the storm, which lasted for nearly three hours. Twenty minutes in, the power went out—it would stay out for eight days.
With the lights off and registers inoperable, Kellie and Mike made the decision to help the community by remaining open.
With no electricity, the Lauderdales and their team ran the business the old-fashioned way. They wrote down purchases and took cash or card numbers by hand — a problem exacerbated both by the lack of people with cash due to the pandemic and nearby ATMs being out of commission because of the storm. “You just had to trust people,” Mike says.
“When I drove back home you could see the roots of the trees—we had a 60-foot elm tree pushed over,” Mike points out. “A block away from the store a major road was blocked with trees. People were already out cutting down trees. Power lines were down on the road.”
Edgewood Hardware quickly sold out of tarps, axes, chain saws, 2-cycle oil, crowbars, chain saw blades and rakes. “I had been one-fourth through our weekly Do it Best order when the storm hit. I had to walk around with a flashlight and write down order numbers, but without being able to see our sales history,” Mike says.
Jumping on the Do it Best website that night on his laptop, Mike saw there were 20 chain saws available, so he ordered all of them. When their regular delivery truck from Do it Best arrived, they were quickly depleted of that inventory. Do it Best followed up with an emergency resupply, which helped the store continue serving the community.
“At times it was just my wife and I and two other employees taking care of everything customers needed while walking around with flashlights. It got hot too with no AC running,” Mike points out.
Edgewood Hardware suffered only minimal damage to the exterior of the building. Kellie and Mike say they are incredibly proud of the work of their team, whose homes and cars were subject to the same damage experienced by the rest of the community.
In Iowa, the derecho directly impacted four counties, leaving 400,000 without power for as long as two weeks. It ended up causing four deaths and $7.5 billion in damage, making it the most damaging thunderstorm in U.S. history. It flattened millions of acres of crops, leaving Iowa farmers unable to harvest 850,000 acres of crops.
“We’ve had tornadoes before, but nothing like this. Cedar Rapids was known for its trees, and now they say 65 percent of our tree canopy is gone,” Mike says.
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