Stores reopen, but what about lunch?

Berkshire Hathaway Automotive’s two Houston stores reopened Wednesday, but it hardly has been business as usual with many parts of the area remaining under water.

“We went out to get lunch and Chick-fil-A has no food, Sam’s has no food, Whataburger has no food, Kroger has no food. We finally found one barbecue place that has food,” said Carolyn Cross, general manager of Joe Myers Ford. “We drove around for two hours before we found a place to eat. Gas is running in short supply. There’s no gas at the gas stations. So nothing is coming in yet to refuel the 5 million people here.”

The inventory at Cross’ store, as well as that at Joe Myers Toyota, was undamaged. Both stores, owned by Warren Buffett’s company, are getting service customers bringing in water-damaged vehicles. But it is a fraction of normal volume. Joe Myers Ford had about 40 to 50 service customers Wednesday, about a two-thirds less than typical traffic, Cross said.

Many other Houston-area dealerships had closed last Friday, but Cross kept her store open until late Saturday. It ran on a skeleton crew, selling four new cars and two used cars that day.

In the building

“My service manager is two blocks behind us,” said Cross. “We really wanted somebody in the building to be able to tell us what was happening with the building, so they volunteered to do that. We didn’t make anybody work. It was attached to safety.”

Joe Myers Toyota, about five miles west of Cross’s store, sold 12 new cars on Saturday, about a fifth of typical Saturday volume, she said. Both stores closed Monday and Tuesday because of impassable roads.

Cross, who has lived in Houston for 53 years, said she has never experienced anything like Hurricane-turned-Tropical Storm Harvey.

“If you look up the areas where this water was, it would fill the space between New York City and Boston. That’s how widespread it was,” said Cross. Tropical Storm “Allison [in June 2001] kind of held to the east side of Houston; that’s really the only place it flooded really bad.”

This time, she said, “was so big, it was just unbelievable.”

Trapped

Cross, whose home was not flooded, was nonetheless trapped in her neighborhood for days because of high water. Of her nearly 200 employees, six were displaced from their homes because of flooding. At Joe Myers Toyota, none of the 200 employees was harmed or displaced from his or her home, she said.

“I really believe that is because we were pre-warned by the weather people as to what was coming,” said Cross. “We moved and moved cars to get them away from low-lying areas.”

While business is slow, Cross said it will pick up as dealers repair and replace water-damaged vehicles.

“They say over 500,000 cars were lost in Houston. That’s going to be a big job to get those replaced, obviously,” Cross said. “We can do it.”