Help hard to come by for Vilonia small businesses

Linda Hicks/Contributing Writer Published May 18, 2014 at 12:00 a.m.
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Linda Hicks/Contributing Photographer

Fred Muawad, the owner of Daylight Donuts in Vilonia, stands by the remains of his 11-year-old business that was destroyed by the April 27 tornado.

Fred Muawad opened Daylight Donuts in Vilonia on May 7, 2003 — 11 years ago. His rented shop and equipment now lie at the bottom of tornado debris in what used to be a downtown shopping center.

Muawad doesn’t know when, where or how, he said, but he will reopen the business in Vilonia.

His shop was among the estimated 85 to 90 percent of businesses initially affected in the city.

“We may not be quite that bad now,” Mayor James Firestone said. Some businesses have reopened, even with leaking roofs.

On April 28, the morning after the tornado, Muawad was attempting to sift through the rubble in hopes of saving something. He had no insurance. He applied to the Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said, but was turned down for assistance. He said he will apply again.

“This is my family here,” Muawad said, referring to the residents of Vilonia. “My blood family is in Israel. This is my bigger family here. For the past 11 years, I have felt nothing but love.”

Vilonia residents refer to him as Mr. Fred. Some of them, he said, really have a sweet tooth and come in two or three times a day. Otherwise, he said, he couldn’t have made a living in a “small town.”

In addition to doughnuts, he also sold Baskin-Robbins ice cream.

“Now, they are just going to have to wait,” he said, adding that he will definitely be back when he finds a place and gets the money to reopen.

He said he generally spends three nights a week sleeping on a sofa bed in his office at the store.

He’s glad he wasn’t in the office on the night of the tornado. An employee who was there made it out just in time to get to a safety shelter, Muawad said. He pointed to a damaged car in the parking lot and said it belonged to her.

Muawad expressed concern about his employee receiving help because she no longer has a paycheck coming in.

Later in the week, Muawad attended a meeting of business owners held at Vilonia City Hall. Firestone told those with downed businesses, “I want you to have hope. We are in a bad situation here, but we all want you here.”

Muawad wasn’t the only business owner at the meeting who has been turned down by FEMA.

Ben Waggoner Jr., the owner of Big Ben’s Food and Fun restaurant on North College Street, said he has been turned down for a Small Business Administration loan, as well as FEMA assistance for both his restaurant and a second business loss, Waggoner Construction Co.

Waggoner said tools and heavy equipment belonging to the construction business were destroyed. The company was located in one of the harder-hit subdivisions, where lives were lost and houses leveled.

Two of the 38 houses downed still belonged to Waggoner. He was the builder of them all.

At the meeting, Firestone repeatedly told business owners to be relentless when asking for help.

“Don’t get discouraged,” he said. “Ask again. I want you guys to get help. We’re going to get through this together.”

Many of the business owners said they plan to reopen.

One business owner, Barry Eason, co-owner of Innovations Hair and Tanning, was operating just a couple of doors down from Muawad.

Eason said he is one of the lucky ones. He has received a check from his insurance company in record time and has already rented a storefront in the Eagle Plaza Shopping Center.

“The insurance didn’t cover everything we had in the business,” Eason said. “It will be enough to get us going again. We went around looking for anything that was open. We knew we had to move quickly, or we wouldn’t have a place. There are not that many places left, and only a couple were for rent, but we managed to get one.”

Eason’s plans are to reopen the business in June.

The following Vilonia businesses, some of which “are up and running again,” Firestone said, were damaged by the tornado or deemed a loss: Artsiefartsies Consignment Boutique, Big G Auto Sales, Bank of America’s ATM, Cock A Doodle Dough, City Nails, Centennial Bank, Daylight Donuts/Baskin-Robbins,

Dollar General, Eagle Nutrition, El Rancho, Citgo, Frozen Icettes, First Security Bank, Gordon Agency Inc., Gordon Financial Services, Harps Food Store, Innovation’s Hair and Tanning, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, J & D Supply Co., Bill Jones Roping Arena, Kieth’s Service Center, Lexy’s Trash or Treasure, Lane Family Dentist, Murray Construction, Meaders Self-Storage, O’Reilly Auto Parts, the Vilonia post office, Blockers, the Rusty Gold Flea Market, Rose Welding, Selah Massage, Southern Exposure Tanning, Sue Shock Insurance, Subway, Showbiz Video, Tobacco World of Vilonia, the Vilonia Family Pharmacy, Vilonia Therapy Services, Vilonia Medical Center, Vilonia Chiropractic Clinic, Vilonia Martial Arts, Vilonia Mini-Storage, VASS (Vilonia Arkansas Satellite System), Vilonia Realty, V-Town Tees, Vilonia Waterworks and Wet Willy’s Carwash.

Also, some nonprofit organizations lost everything. The Vilonia Disaster Recovery Alliance and the Spirit of Vilonia Ministries food bank and clothes closet were left in rubble. The Museum of Veterans and Military History was hit, and the remains of the building have since been bulldozed.

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