Disaster and Rebirth in New Orleans
This PARA dealer's store and home were devastated by Hurricane Katrina. Today, however, he looks forward to a brighter future.
By Jay Valentino
New Orleans is my home.
For four generations, my family has meticulously restored and operated three hotels in the historic French Quarter. But the devastation wrought by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 challenged us all in ways we hadn't imagined possible.
The vast majority of the Crescent City's inhabitants—80 percent of the housing in New Orleans was substantially damaged or destroyed—is still struggling to recover, six months after the largest disaster in U.S. history, and as the Gulf Coast enters another hurricane season.
My business, Audio Resource, is a nine-year-old enterprise located in Metairie, La., a close-in suburb of the Big Easy. We are a typical small business, with five employees working in a 4,000-square-foot retail space. We cater to discriminating customers, selling brands like B&W, Rotel, Classe, Martin-Logan, Runco, Transparent, Stewart Filmscreen, Richard Gray, Pioneer Elite and Sony. Forty percent of our business is in-store, while 60 percent is custom installation.
We'd been through many tropical storms over the years, but when we saw the sheer size of this one and the city evacuating, my wife and five-year-old son drove to a friend's home in Baton Rouge, the Louisiana state capital, about 70 miles north of New Orleans. I joined them early that Sunday morning, expecting to return in a day or so once the storm passed.
I didn't get back to my home or store for three-and-a-half weeks—and then only with a police escort.
ALL IS NOT LOST
Over the next several weeks, we, like everyone here, had to make one life-changing decision after another—where to live, where to enroll the kids in school, and how (or whether) to get a business up and going again after such massive destruction.