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Woodworkers see economic boon from Hurricane Andrew.

In the wake of Hurricane Andrew, which struck South Florida Aug. 24 causing property damage estimated between $10 billion and $20 billion, many area woodworkers are experiencing a "mini-boon" in orders. While business is up in record numbers, some woodworkers are leery of the future.

With winds at times reaching speeds of 200 miles per hour. Hurricane Andrew cut a path through Southern Florida about 10 to 15 miles south of downtown Miami. The fierce winds snapped and ripped up giant trees and left block after block and subdivision after subdivision of homes and businesses in rubble. Florida officials said 13 people in South Florida and one person in Louisiana died as a result of the hurricane. More than an estimated 250,000 people lost their homes, officials report.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency estimates the cost of damage to be between $10 and $12 billion while Florida officials put that number at between $15 and $20 billion. According to published reports, the American Insurance Services Group Inc. has raised its estimate of damage to $10.7 billion, including $500 million of damage caused by Andrew in Louisiana. On Oct. 15 State Farm announced it had paid out $2.1 billion in claims to its customers in the South Florida area.

"Everyone is getting a new roof, kitchen and additions because they are getting big fat checks from insurance companies," said Randy Lopez, owner of Redland Woodworks in Homestead, Fla., one of the hardest areas hit by Andrew. "The whole town is rebuilding at once. In three years everything will be brand new and then no one will be buying."

Steve Garrett, owner of Cabinets & Such in Homestead, also voiced concern for the future of his business. After all the reconstruction is finished "it will be ten years before anyone will buy another kitchen cabinet."

In the interim, woodworkers and retailers are experiencing record business. It is anticipated that business will only grow as more insurance claims are settled and homes and businesses are built or rebuilt.

"Our type of business is six to nine months behind carpentry so the best is to come," said Irene Beers of Frohbose & Beers Woodworking, Miami. "We are doing more estimating than God, and if we get a portion of the proposals that we have made we will be doing well."

Garrett said, "In the first five days after the storm I received a year's worth of work," -- so much work that Garrett has stopped custom making his cabinets and has begun to sell ready-made cabinets.

Furniture retailer Peter Persaud, owner of Homestead Point Furniture in Homestead, said not only is he experiencing record business, but those that are buying are using their insurance checks to buy high-quality merchandise. "Homeowners are demanding solid wood furniture and they don't mind the cost of it and they don't mind waiting for it as long as the bedroom and dining room sets are solid wood." Persaud said his customers are putting money down on furniture early to lock in furniture prices in anticipation of rising costs. He said that most asked for delivery in 60 to 90 days to allow time for their homes to be rebuilt.

Much of the business woodworkers are getting is from previous customers who are looking to repair damaged pieces. Lopez said his shop is full with 136 pieces of damaged furniture from previous customers and "more comes in everyday."

"All our old clients have damage," Lopez said. "You have to serve the old clients before you go anywhere for new business."

Lopez said that while business is up it is "hard to make money in spite of it. I am having more business now than in the last ten years and it is hard or harder to make money. (Manufacturing material) suppliers are hard to reach, prices have fluctuated. Everywhere we go we have to wait. Half the suppliers are out of business and the other half are stacked up with customers. You wait in line for an hour and a half to find out they don't have what you need."

Lopez added that while prices of manufacturing materials have gone up, he feels prices are legitimate and that there is not much in the way of price gouging.

Some woodworking companies are waiting on insurance claims to be settled so that they can be paid for projects already completed. Howard Rich, of Rich Woodturning, said "We had built some projects for homes that are no longer there, that were blown away. We have already put in a claim against the people's insurance company."


David Tibbs remembers standing in front of the rubble that a day earlier had been his store fixture and case goods shop. When Hurricane Andrew seemed destined to strike the area, Tibbs evacuated his family inland to safety. He returned to find his two homes, and the 8,000-square-foot concrete building he leased for his business, destroyed.

"It was devastating to see," said Tibbs, owner of Homestead-based DT Woodcrafters Corp. "I could see the sky from my office. It took me a good three days before I could come up with a (business) plan."

Tibbs, like many woodworkers from the area, was forced to leave the Homestead area to find manufacturing space. He found an 11,000-square-foot warehouse in Miami and moved what was left of his shop about the 15 miles north to Miami. He and his workers that followed him to Miami began working 14 and 16 hour days to meet new orders while replacing the $150,000 in finished store fixtures that had been destroyed. The fixtures had been scheduled to be delivered to a customer in California who had already built the buildings, hired employees and was waiting for the fixtures to arrive to open the business.

"I had a lot of friends who got real upset about the hurricane, but that doesn't help anything," Tibbs said. "My family is OK and my business survived and that is all that counts. So I may not be as rich as quick as I would like to be. This planet does what it wants to do and who am I to get (upset). You have to say, to hell with it and move forward."

Tibbs was not the only woodworker in Southern Florida to feel the devastating force of Hurricane Andrew. Custom woodworker Randy Lopez, owner of Redland Woodworks of Homestead, said he and his family decided to try and ride out the hurricane. "The hurricane pretty well blew apart our house and completely trashed all our belongings. We were huddled in a corner of the house before it was all over. Everyone thought they were going to die. When we came out the next day, it looked like a nuclear bomb had fallen."

Kathy Roessler of Palm Beach Lumber and Export, who has been leading a drive to collect materials for hurricane ravaged areas, said Lopez's story was not unique. "I talked to one store fixture manufacturer who lost his entire business. He had seven homes in his family and five of them were completely destroyed," Roessler said.

Irene Beers, of Frohbose & Beers Woodworking, who along with her husband drove 80 miles to obtain necessities such as baby supplies and ice and water to give to an employee who had been hit "hard," said, "You have to understand the pressure people were under around here. You would walk around and people would ask you, 'Do you have a house?' It used to be people would stop and say 'hello' and now it is 'Do you have a house?' I lost a third of my roof, a third of my house, but that was nothing compared to some."

Officials estimate that 250,000 people were left homeless as a result of the hurricane. Rebuilding south of Miami started slowly as efforts were hampered by a number of factors. Electrical outages lasted up to five and six weeks after the hurricane. Telephone service was non-existent and even two months later only a crowded cellular phone system provided a link to the rest of the country. Travelling was difficult as less than 100 of the 22,000 traffic lights in South Florida were functioning, and roads were clogged with trucks and emergency vehicles and full of debris and nails from roofs blown from houses. "I had 17 flat tires in one week," Lopez said.

Like many woodworkers throughout South Florida, Lopez has a positive outlook on the future of South Florida. "I think this will make better people out of everybody that went through it, I think the whole place will emerge a little better for it. I know my kids will never take a roof over their heads for granted again," Lopez said.
COPYRIGHT 1992 Vance Publishing Corp.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1992, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:includes related article
Author:Adams, Larry
Publication:Wood & Wood Products
Date:Nov 1, 1992
Previous Article:Andrew's unwelcome visit.
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