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Woman stunned by damage

There’s little doubt that Quenby Mitchell would look stunning in some of the vintage clothes she sells in her shop.

BY P.J. HELLER | PENSACOLA, Fla. | September 19, 2004

" I came in just before the storm started and I kind of gave the shop a kiss and wished it good luck."

—Quenby Mitchell

There’s little doubt that Quenby Mitchell would look stunning in some of the vintage clothes she sells in her shop. But today, thanks to Hurricane Ivan, she looks anything but.

Dressed in shorts, tank top, boots and with a baseball-style cap perched on her head, she is hot, tired and sweaty as she slogs through the water and dirt in her spacious store, her bare legs splattered with mud and her eyes filling with tears.

Less than 100 feet from the front door of her business, Secondhand Rose, two sailboats lay tossed on the ground from the nearby harbor, another reminder of the power of Hurricane Ivan which made landfall here packing winds of 130 mph.

Mitchell, however, is less concerned about the boats than she is about the devastation of the shop that she and her mother nurtured and loved for the past 15 years.

“We loved it so much,” Mitchell said. “It’s been an amazing shop.”

What is amazing now is the water marks on the interior walls, indicating at least three and a half feet of water inundated the building. There is mud and water everywhere and it squishes under her feet as she makes her way through the shop to see what, if anything, she can salvage.

A Civil War-era dress which she says was in excellent condition and would have sold for $1,500, is relegated to the trash heap. She laments that some of the less valuable items survived the storm. A small U-Haul truck parked outside her store is being loaded with the little that can be rescued.

In other sections of Pensacola, businesses and homeowners were going through a similar ritual, pulling out ruined carpeting, furniture, clothing, appliances and trying to save whatever they could.

“No way, no way,” Mitchell sighs when asked if she had expected the storm to do so much damage.

“I put some sandbags out,” she says. “There I was, carefully placing them, thinking I’d keep out a few inches of water. I put maybe 10 sandbags by each door.

“I came in just before the storm started and I kind of gave the shop a kiss and wished it good luck,” she said, her eyes brimming again with tears. “That wasn’t enough. It wasn’t enough.”

Mitchell said because of the quick turnover on many of the items in the store, coupled with the fact that many of them were there on consignment, it had been difficult to obtain insurance. So she had no insurance when Ivan struck.

“Mother and I have zero income now and will have zero income for awhile,” she said.

“We have suffered a tremendous tremendous loss,” she said looking around. “It’s just daunting.”

Like other residents who are just beginning to cope with the storm’s aftermath, Mitchell said she is unsure of exactly what she will do next. One thing she is certain of is that the store won’t reopen, at least not in the same place.

“There’s no way,” she said of reopening in the same location.

Not only did she predict that the building will have to be gutted and renovated, which could take months, but that the rent would be increased so much that she wouldn’t be able to afford to stay.

Mitchell noted that her house in Pensacola came through the storm relatively unscathed. She rode out the storm hunkered down in the house.

“It was pretty terrifying,” she said.

Trees are down all around her house and she has to duck under and around the limbs to get in the door.

“I don’t care about that,” she says, noting her major concern is the welfare of her mother who was in Gulf Breeze when the storm hit. With telephone lines down and cell service spotty, she hasn’t spoken with her mother since Ivan hit.

“I can’t get to her to make sure she’s OK,” she said. “I can only hope and pray that her neighbors are taking care of her or she’s found shelter.”

As far as her house, Mitchell confesses that she wishes the hurricane had taken her house rather than her business.

“I wish to goodness it would have spared me my shop and taken my house,” Mitchell said. “This (shop) was a lot of my life.”

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