Small businesses wade through floods in soggy Elwood

Dr Elizabeth Foo outside Laird’s pharmacy, says it’s hard to estimate the cost of the damage. Photo: Penny Stephens Andrew Sarratore from Jerry’s milk bar in Elwood: “Please slow down… or no coffee tomorrow.” Photo: Penny Stephens

Walking into Jerry’s Milk Bar on Friday morning, one could be mistaken that Thursday’s flash floods were a distant memory. The floors of the iconic Elwood cafe are dry, the coffee machine is brewing, and customers are streaming in and out of the front door.

Perhaps that’s because owner Andrew Sarratore has learned his lesson. Being the third time since he bought the century-old business in 2010 that it fell victim to flash flooding, he now knows what to do to avoid costly damage.

On his first day in business, Mr Sarratore recalls, heavy rain swamped the place, sending what he estimates as $20,000 worth of supplies — eggs, fruit and fresh vegetables — sailing through the store. It took him six days to clean up the mess.

Four years later, when wild storms lashed the suburb, water gushed up from the drains and streamed down the road from the nearby canal, flooding the cafe yet again, says Mr Sarratore.

But this year, as he heard the rain pummel down and the canal break its banks, Mr Sarratore knew what to do.

He put crates on the road to divert traffic away from the water that had built up on the side of the road, as it struggled to make its way down the drains. To the crates he added a sign that read, “Please slow down… or no coffee tomorrow.” And he put sandbags at each of the property’s three entrances to prevent the water from making its way under the doors.

He then took a shovel and cleared the drains outside, in an effort to enable the water to pass through more easily, and when the rain eventually stopped, he took a mop and swept out any water that had made its way inside.

“Customers who live nearby offered assistance,” says Mr Sarratore. “By this morning, the place was dry and we opened as usual.”

Nearby, on Tennyson Street, an employee at the local Laird’s Pharmacy is squeezing water out of towels that had earlier lined the front door of the shop.

Inside, between serving her customers, owner Dr. Elizabeth Foo says it’s hard to estimate the cost of the damage to her newly inaugurated store.

Stock that had been shelved low to the ground was ruined. She returned to work today to discover the fridge had exceeded the optimal temperature for storing medicines — which she suspects may have occurred due to a temporary power outage — and now she must go through that stock to see if it is still viable. Meanwhile, the carpets will need to be cleaned to avoid any fungal infections.

Not only had water made its way through the two entrances to the store, despite her efforts to lay rolled-up towels at the doors, it had seeped through the roof, too.

“I put buckets on the bench to collect the water,” she says.

The flood comes just one month after the store was officially inaugurated by the Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, says Dr. Foo with pride, showing off photos of the occasion.

A few doors down, the washing machines are spinning at Tennyson Street Laundry. Just yesterday evening, manager Tobias Kilsby had been sweeping out water that flowed over the drain, through the back door, past the washing machines, and out the laundromat’s front entrance.

Fortunately, there was no damage to the machinery. “They’re industrial grade and their machines sit high up off the ground,” explains Mr Kilsby.

The small businesses on Ormond Road, Elwood’s main shopping strip, appear to have gotten through the flash flood scot-free.

“The water rose up high where the cars are parked outside, but it didn’t make it past the footpath,” explains Joanna Pidcock, who works at The Grumpy Swimmer bookstore.

“That was lucky for us, because water could do a lot of damage to our stock,” she says with a smile, looking at all the books and gift items stored on shelves down to the floor.

Some neighbouring stores hadn’t taken any chances. While their shopfronts bear signs saying, “Taking a break for Christmas. See you in 2017,” sandbags and towels line the front doors.

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