Sandbags are stacked outside Baked Bear ice cream and cookie shop on Harden Street in Five Points. Employees said the bags have been kept on standby since heavy flooding over the summer and are ready for any flooding caused by Hurricane Ian this weekend. (Photos by Stephen Pastis)
Gabby Lebel, a USC student who works at The Baked Bear ice cream and cookie shop, was working July 4 when a storm dumped 4 inches of water into Five Points.
The third-year advertising student and customers were trapped inside the store by almost a foot of water pressing against the glass front doors, making them too heavy to push open. Firefighters had to help open the doors for the group to escape, flooding the store. Lebel’s car was parked outside the Harden Street building and was totaled by the deluge.
The store has repaired the damage and kept sandbags at the sides of the front doors ever since. As Hurricane Ian is forecast to bring a similar, perhaps heavier, rain to the Midlands again this weekend, Lebel said Baked Bear is doing what most stores in Five Points are planning to do — play it by ear.
The store’s owners decided to close Friday and waiting to see what happens Saturday and Sunday.
Other stores also are readying themselves by making sure sandbags and other protections are in place. Most, however, are just hoping for the best, according to several employees at various businesses.
“Rain is rain – we have no control over it,” Lebel said. “But we do try to prepare as much as we can.”
The sandbags help block the water from pouring in, and some businesses use duct tape and plastic sheets to seal their doors.
Some are prepared to move merchandise off their floors and away from any water. Others always keep their merchandise off the ground since the area floods regularly.
“When it hits so hard, and it’s so much rain in such a short period of time, it just has nowhere to go,” Lebel said. “It just stays here.”
Rock Paper Scissors Salon and Spa also has had sandbags at the door since July and is ready for the worst.
“Hopefully, it won’t flood,” stylist Kori Strausbugh said. “It probably will, but we are used to it. As long as you can act fast.”
Inevitably, the water goes around the sandbags, and the sandbags can burst, spreading sand in the water, Strausburgh said. She has worked in floods before and has even been momentarily trapped, too.
“Down here, it only takes about 15 minutes and you’re closed,” Strausburgh said.
Strausburgh describes Five Points as a “gnarly” mess when it floods. Vehicles and fire trucks drive by, pushing waves of water into the business’s doors. People sometimes swim or drift by on flotation devices, and cars are underwater, she said.
Five Points is a low spot in the city, so water drains down the hills of Devine and Harden streets and fills the area.
Loose Lucy’s clothing store on Saluda Avenue plans to stay open Friday and Saturday. They’re closer to Blossom Street, where it’s especially low, so no stranger to flooding, Manager Katherine Getz said.
Getz said she has seen many floods in the six years she has worked there.
“We’ve dealt with it so many times, it’s just second nature at this point,” Getz said.
Employees have been briefed on the store’s “flood prep” plan, which includes using sandbags and unclogging debris from street drains.
The flooding on the street is much worse when the drains are clogged, she said. She’s worried no one will clear them out after stores close Friday night, Getz said.
During flooding over the summer, Getz said she was the only business owner or manager on the street who knew to clear out the drains.
“I can’t man four drains, personally,” Getz said. “And I don’t want any of (the other businesses’s) products to get damaged, because we have a lot of consignment shops. Those are one-of-a-kind pieces, you don’t want those to get damaged.”
Getz has tried to teach neighboring stores to better protect themselves from flooding and says the stores have taken it to heart.
“It’s definitely a whole community effort to keep this place from flooding,” she said. “But when you build in a swampland, there’s only so much you can do when Mother Nature comes.”
The Baked Bear was inundated with water on July 4, 2022. Five Points could face similar rainfall Friday. (Video courtesy of Gabby Lebel)
Sandbags stacked up outside of Rock Paper Scissors Salon and Spa in Five Points on Wednesday.
The front door of Rock Paper Scissors Salon and Spa has a bottom seal that doesn’t hold back water when flooding occurs.
ABOUT THE JOURNALISTS
Bozard is a senior journalism student at the University of South Carolina and is a news editor at the student-run Daily Gamecock. He has covered topics such as university politics and social issues. He investigated anti-Asian and Asian American racism on campus during the COVID-19 pandemic and covered leaked, racially charged and homphobic student government communications. He recently interned for the Orangeburg Times and Democrat and is a first generation college student from Barnwell, S.C.
Stephen Pastis is a senior journalism major at USC, where he is the arts and culture editor of his college paper, The Daily Gamecock. He writes about state politics, Columbia culture and technology. He is also working on an investigative story into the intricacies of trash management in the state. Most recently, he covered state politics for The State newspaper as an intern, reporting on primary elections, abortion and immigration.