TARPON SPRINGS — Flooding is nothing new to most businesses sitting along the low-lying areas of Dodecanese Boulevard at the Sponge Docks. But the waters that came along with Hurricane Hermine last week left many shop owners along the tourist strip surprised, some saying the storm's flooding was the worst they have ever seen.
"I have been here 18 years, and this is the first time this has happened," said merchant Yiota Czeck while looking into one of her family's three shops along Athens Street, a road adjacent to Dodecanese, which borders the Anclote River. "We have had water, but not like this."
All three shops — Amvrosia, Kelly's Clothing and Pandora — suffered severe flooding and power outages. Although Amvrosia, a gift shop, is back up and running, the other two stores are still in extreme disrepair as Czeck waits for flood insurance assessments.
"The water is out, but everything there is destroyed," she said. "Everything is wet and smelly and ruined."
The worst of the storm hit the docks late on the night of Sept. 1, during high tide and right before Hermine made landfall. Merchants say waters — coming from a mix of rain and rising river levels — were as high as 4 feet in some areas, inevitably making way into nearby businesses.
Shrimp Wrecked owner Russell Latimer said the storm caused about $50,000 of damage inside his waterfront restaurant, but because most diners opt to sit outside on the concrete patio, it is still open for business.
Demetrios Salivaras, who owns three food-related businesses in the Sponge Docks area, said his biggest loss — about $6,000 — was in food inventory spoiling during power outages. He saw more than a foot of flooding in his waterfront restaurant, Dimitri's on the Water, causing damage to computers, credit card machines, Internet connection and electronic kitchen appliances.
"Really, we are lucky, because it could have been a lot worse," he said, but added that some of the area's damage could have been prevented with improved infrastructure.
The only shops that escaped damage were the ones whose owners say they always do — those built up higher on a platform or on a more elevated part of the street. City spokesperson Judy Staley said city public safety employees helped with cleanup at many of the flooded shops, and that fire rescue staff is collecting storm damage assessments to see if the city qualifies for federal emergency funding.
At newly opened gift shop It's 5 O'clock Somewhere, water came as high as 4 inches, ruining merchandise stored and displayed on the floor. Manager Maureen Collins said the shop opened less than a month ago, and while owners and employees knew flooding was an issue and put out sandbags to brace for the storm, they never expected it to be so bad.
"We didn't see this coming at all," she said.
It took water vacuums and pumps and hours of work by a group of employees to restore the shop on Dodecanese, but Collins still says she is thankful and most importantly, better prepared for the next big storm to hit Florida's west coast.
"Considering all that happened and how bad it was elsewhere ... I am glad we survived and that no one was hurt," she said, adding that the shop opened back up on Saturday. "We'll definitely keep our eye out for the next storm. We'll put out more sandbags and try to get everything off the floor."
Contact Megan Reeves at email@example.com or (727) 445-4153. Follow @mreeves_tbt.