Ending Soon! Save 33% on All Access

Surviving Hurricane Katrina How one New Orleans entrepreneur picked up the pieces following the worst natural disaster in U.S. history

By James Park

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Last August, Chris Reams sat in a Las Vegas hotel room transfixed to the TV. Hurricane Katrina, the worst natural disaster ever to hit the country, was unfolding live on the screen. "It was like watching my own 9/11, only Mother Nature was the terrorist this time," says Reams, 31. "I kept thinking of how different the city I loved was going to be upon my return and wondered what would be left." Of all the images of businesses being destroyed, Reams desperately searched for one that would show if his clothing shop, Ichabod's, had survived.

It didn't. Like tens of thousands of others, the business was in ruins.

Reams had flown to Las Vegas a day before the storm hit to attend a trade show. It would take him more than a month to return home after staying with family members in St. Louis. He found that although the shop had avoided the full affects of flooding, the looters had spared nothing. "It was horrible," Reams remembers. "I didn't stay in there long; I couldn't bear it." They had broken in, stolen most of his goods and destroyed what they couldn't take.

Ichabod's had opened in New Orleans just a few months before Katrina hit. The trendy clothing store featured many of Reams' own designs. Originally located in nearby Covington, where he lived, Reams had moved the operation in April, hoping to profit from the lucrative young market provided by the nearby Tulane and Loyola University campuses. "Normally, the summer is a slow time for retail," Reams recalls. "We were taking it easy, waiting for school to start."

When he returned to his home 30 minutes outside of New Orleans, there wasn't much left to greet him. "I have a plastic-sheet roof, no garage and plenty of debris," Reams says. "I'm trying to keep from going crazy most days."

While surveying the damage done to his house, Reams found that his clothing inventory and screen-printing equipment had survived. Determined to find a way to get back on his feet quickly, he took what he could and set up a temporary workspace in his fianc�e's father's home in Covington.

With help from his sister and other friends who had internet connections, Reams successfully re-launched his website in one week, complete with new pictures of his shirts. But what really saved Reams was his idea to talk to his competitor in New Orleans, Sarah Wheelock, owner of Funky Monkey. Somehow, the vintage clothing store across the street from his evaded the wrath of looters. "Maybe people didn't want used clothing," Reams laughs.

After reopening, Funky Monkey faced inventory trouble. Some of the nearby residents of the city had moved back in, and they needed clothes, but shipping was a nightmare. So Reams proposed an alliance: He would supply her with his designs, and she would give him 50 percent of the sales on his clothing. The partnership worked, and Funky Monkey has even dedicated more space to Reams' designs. With 2006 sales projected to exceed $500,000, Reams says he--like many other business owners in the area--has no plans to reopen his old store. (Seven other businesses on his street have permanently closed.)

Says Reams of the lessons he learned from the disaster, "[Katrina] forced me to really just move faster on some things I should have done a long time ago, [like] converting [the website] more... [and] getting to know your neighbors."

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Science & Technology

3 Major Mistakes Companies Are Making With AI That Is Limiting Their ROI

With so many competing narratives around the future of AI, it's no wonder companies are misaligned on the best approach for integrating it into their organizations.

Leadership

How a $10,000 Investment in AI Transformed My Career and Business Strategy

A bold $10,000 investment in AI and machine learning education fundamentally transformed my career and business strategy. Here's how adaption in the ever-evolving realm of AI — with the right investment in education, personal growth and business innovation — can transform your business.

Business Ideas

63 Small Business Ideas to Start in 2024

We put together a list of the best, most profitable small business ideas for entrepreneurs to pursue in 2024.

Starting a Business

How to Find the Right Programmers: A Brief Guideline for Startup Founders

For startup founders under a plethora of challenges like timing, investors and changing market demand, it is extremely hard to hire programmers who can deliver.

Business News

A University Awarded a Student $10,000 for His AI Tool — Then Suspended Him for Using It, According to a New Lawsuit

Emory University awarded the AI study aid the $10,000 grand prize in an entrepreneurial pitch competition last year.

Business News

He Picked Up a Lucky Penny In a Parking Lot. Moments Later, He Won $1 Million in the Lottery.

Tim Clougherty was in for a surprise when he scratched off his $10,000-a-month winning lottery ticket.