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Quick Lube Shops Hit by Harvey…One Year Later

One year after Hurricane Harvey made landfall, many parts of Houston are still recovering. The storm, which formed in mid-August 2017 and made landfall in Texas on August 29, is now tied with 2005’s Hurricane Katrina as the costliest tropical cyclone on record. The Category 4 storm inflicted $125 billion in damage, much of it from the catastrophic rainfall-triggered flooding.

It was the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Wilma in 2005, and in a four-day period, many areas received more than 40 inches of rain, making it the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States. The resulting flood affected hundreds of thousands of homes and displaced more than 30,000 people. It also claimed the lives of 106 people in the United States.

Given the damage and devastation, it might have appeared that Houston would have a long and slow recovery. But this city, which is the fourth most populous in the United States and also the ninth most expansive city, isn’t one you should expect to easily keep down.

“There are still visual signs of the storm a year later,” said Brian Johnson, franchisee for Honest-1 Auto Care in Houston. “Our shop recovered last fall, but the area was really hard hit. There are still businesses that are shut down, but we turned a corner. Most of the demolition is done, and everyone seems to be in a reconstruction phase now. The remodeling is still going on, but that is a good sign.”

That sentiment has been shared by others in the industry.

“The recovery has been really good,” said Lionel Sosa, district manager for Allied Lube, which operates more than 80 Jiffy Lube service centers in Texas. “A few locations were down for a while, mainly due to heavy rain and then the flooding.”.

Particularly hard hit was the Jiffy Lube located on Fuqua Street in the South Belt/Ellington neighborhood that is about 20 miles southeast of downtown Houston. The middle-class area was truly devastated and experienced massive flooding.

“We were closed for weeks straight,” said Alex Zeyala, general manager for the Fuqua Street Jiffy Lube. “It was a disaster. We couldn’t even get to the shop for the first few days after the storm hit.”

However, while many businesses were closed for well over a month due to Harvey, Zeyala said good planning ensured the shop was up and running as quickly as possible.

“I’ll be honest; we were surprised we were able to restore it back up to operation as quickly as we did,” Zeyala said. “We made sure when it was clear that Harvey was going to make landfall near Houston that we locked everything down tight. All the fluids were properly stored, and we moved what we could off the floor, as well. We prepped for the storm, and that paid off.”

Zeyala also credited the shop’s employees, who showed professionalism following the storm. Instead of complaints everyone pulled their weight.

“The whole team really came together, including some brand new hires,” Zeyala said.

The Road to Recovery

Outlying areas of Houston were also affected by Hurricane Harvey. Heavily hit was the “Golden Triangle” area between the cities of Beaumont, Port Arthur and Orange.

“While we were very blessed and the shop didn’t flood, and my home didn’t flood, we were cut off as the water from the flooding was too deep to travel,” said Julie Smylie, owner of a Meineke Care Car Center in Beaumont, and resident of Lumberton — about 70 miles east of Houston.

“The flooding certainly impacted our business,” Smylie said. “For a few weeks, we took a big dip before we started to see a recovery.”

Even as the region began its cleanup in the days and weeks following Harvey, business wasn’t quick to return to many quick lube operators. In fact, the storm took an immediate economic toll on the auto service industry and resulted in a downturn in business, simply because so many cars were “totaled” as a result of Harvey.

“We did see a pick-up in business last fall,” Zeyala said. “There were not only those people who were worried about how their cars fared in the storm, but also others who bought used cars after the storm and wanted to make sure those were in good running order. We changed the fluids and made sure these cars were good to go.”

This uptick in business has been seen at all of Allied Lube’s Jiffy Lube locations in the Houston area.

“Since last fall, the recovery has been steady, and we’re seeing business at many of our locations growing again,” Sosa added.

The same has been true for the Golden Triangle area, as well.

“We saw a surge in business in the weeks after the storm as people came to have their cars serviced,” Smylie said. “And now, almost a year later, it is more or less back to normal — I would say more normal than not. However, there is still a long way to go for people’s lives to return to what they were.”

With life returning to normal, business is coming back for operators.

“We’ve seen an increase in business in the past few months,” said Honest-1 Auto Care’s Johnson. “Car counts are up, and life is getting back to normal.”

Johnson said that one take away from the storm has been the need to think about disaster preparation.

“That is all you can do; you have to protect your business,” he said. “We live where we do, and hurricanes happen. So, the most you can do is prepare for them and hope it wasn’t necessary.”

As the one-year anniversary of the storm approached, the efforts by businesses across Houston continued to speed that recovery. It also allowed Texas Governor Greg Abbott to note the efforts of those who put it all on the line during and immediately after the storm.

In July, Governor Abbott was joined by the South Belt/Ellington Chamber of Commerce at a gala that honored Hurricane Harvey heroes and first responders, and the Governor thanked everyone involved in the recovery efforts, as well.

“A storm the magnitude of Hurricane Harvey could’ve ripped us apart — but instead it pulled us together and proved that no force is more powerful than the Texas spirit,” Governor Abbott said.

Many quick lube operators have also shown that Texas spirit and proved they, too, are Houston Strong!

“We were Houston Strong,” Allied Lube’s Sosa said. “Yes, sir.”

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