Spartanburg business ravaged by 2017 tornado bounces back

Article by: Conor Hughes

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One year after a tornado tore the roof of Flair21 s Spartanburg facility, three of its managers sat in the organization s new location Tuesday and reflected on 365 days of hard work, charity and rebuilding as they looked ahead to a bright future.

David Petty, Joy Belue and Tim Nichols all serve in leadership positions at the company, formerly known as ADO Corp., and said the organization has not only recovered from the tornado but is thriving.

The fabric distributor and drapes manufacturer, which has been in Spartanburg since the 1970s, now sits one street over from the building that was damaged by the tornado and is preparing to expand and hire up to 15 new employees, almost doubling its staff.

We ve definitely gotten back to where we were before the storm, but now there s a lot of expansion and growth happening, said Petty, the company s chief marketing officer.

On Oct. 24, 2017, staff returned to the company s building on Simuel Road to survey the destruction a tornado had wreaked on the facility the day prior.

Just hours before, the staff escaped the building hand-in-hand after the cyclone tore its roof off and toppled parts of its cinder block walls. Looking at the destruction that day after the storm, the future was anything but certain.

Were we going to stay in business? Was that going to shut us down? said Nichols, flair21 s chief operating officer. There were just a lot of unknowns.

The tornado brought winds between 111 and 135 mph to Spartanburg and was one of four to hit the Upstate that day.

Belue, the company s shipping and receiving manager, said the continued existence and success of the company is a testament to the support it received from the Spartanburg community, the loyalty of its customers and the hard work of its employees.

The whole group, we just dug in and said, We re going to save our jobs and we re going to save this company, she said. We worked together through so many ups and downs.

In the weeks following the twister, employees worked from home until the company found a temporary office. Spartanburg Community College opened a space in its business incubator to the employees, rent free, where they could work while they looked for a new permanent facility.

Having a rent-free space for a few months was incredibly beneficial for us to get back on our feet, especially when there are so many other expenses, Petty said.

Petty said the damage caused delays and issues in the company s ability to get products to its customers. During that time, he said flair21 s clients were flexible and understanding.

Many of them were saddened, not necessarily for their own sake, but because we talk to them regularly on the phone, we ve communicated with them on different projects, he said. So they treat us as friends and colleagues, not just as another vendor.

The company s warehouse was damaged by the tornado, and Belue had to salvage the inventory she could when she could get access to the damaged building.

Most of our business was in the warehouse, and there were ups and downs because one day it would be condemned, one day there was asbestos and you couldn't go in until you signed a release, Nichols said. It was just one thing after another for months, it seemed like, and Joy was always out there digging for fabric.

About a month after the storm, Stefaan Joos, an engineer, bought the company and has committed to growing its presence in Spartanburg.

He s investing in the company and really leading the charge to bring the manufacturing back to the U.S., Nichols said.

Belue said she and the rest of the company are grateful to the Spartanburg community for the support they found after the storm.

It s nice to know that your neighbors are welcoming, she said.

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