As Hurricane Harvey tore through Texas this week, destroying hundreds of businesses and driving tens of thousands of residents from their homes, Jessie Roberts felt compelled to act. "The fear for me is that a lot of the boutiques have lost everything," she tells Inc., recalling bitterly when she thought that her own business was doomed.

Two years ago, when nasty weather backed up her town's storm drains, Roberts, the owner and manager of Cheekys Brand, a New Plymouth, Idaho, boutique selling country-themed women's apparel, was ill-prepared for the severe flooding that left her brick-and-mortar shop waterlogged and her inventory destroyed. "If we didn't have support from the community, we very well could have gone out of business," adds Roberts, whose business is now on track to notch $10 million in annual revenue.

inlineimage

As a show of support, the entrepreneur, on Monday, launched a nationwide fundraising campaign, shepherding hundreds of boutiques to donate cash, apparel, and jewelry to support mom-and-pop shops in Texas affected by the storm. Although many of the participating boutiques are Roberts's wholesale partners, she corralled others online via a social business network, the Boutique Hub. In less than 48 hours, several hundred shops have raised more than $100,000 in donations, which Roberts uses to ship boxes of inventory to affected businesses. Rather than sending a check, she says, donating product helps entrepreneurs "start rebuilding at no cost," generating revenue in the short term while they determine the extent of the flood damage.

Strength in numbers

Christy Morris, the co-founder of a boutique in Sulphur, Oklahoma, is helping support Roberts' efforts with a $500 cash donation. She also plans to donate her own inventory to the cause. She says she will send at least 10 boxes of 250 of her signature "sugar stack" bracelets to shops in Texas, which could fetch around $5,000 worth of sales. "I cannot imagine if one day I'm making money, and the next day, I have no way to make money," Morris explains of her decision to participate. "If they have something that's not ruined to sell, that can at least help them generate some revenue."

In addition to product donations, dozens of boutiques are diverting their own sales for the week. Cheekys is donating proceeds for its entire product line through September 2, as well as 20 percent of wholesale revenue. That includes sales of a designated Texas Hurricane Relief Tee, and Sweet Home Texas Tee, designed by partner Truth Ink Apparel. Other businesses pledging to donate their proceeds include Southern Jewlz, Tribe West Boutique, and Rodeo Quincy.

Meredith Jurica, a retired speech pathologist-turned-entrepreneur, is happy to see this type of giving. Her Houston-based company, Makeup Junkie, has been in the business of selling makeup bags since last September. Over the past 10 months, her company has generated some $1 million in sales, and it was on track to reap even more if it wasn't for Harvey. This week, Jurica lost her entire fall line, when floodwaters overcame the uninsured factory where she stored her products. "We've collectively lost over $100,000 in retail inventory," Jurica tells Inc., her voice trembling.

Even so, Jurica says she turned down donations from Roberts' effort, acknowledging that she is better off than most in the area. She also donated $1,500 to the cause. "We have at least a dozen friends whose homes are completely under water." Jurica, who lives with her husband and two young daughters, was largely spared from the floodwaters; her house is located on top of a hill, and the family has taken in several acquaintances in need of refuge.

"Over the last 10 months, we saved and saved and saved. I look at my bank account, and I can go to the store to buy paint and drywall," she explains. "There's no way I could take the money, knowing that I had the resources to replace what I've lost, and there are other store owners [who can't.]"

Disproportionately affected

Indeed, the devastation caused by Hurricane Harvey carries socioeconomic weight. As some have argued, the poor are likely to be disproportionately affected. They are less likely to be insured, and would be forced to pay even more just to recover their losses. It's an inexact comparison, but in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, thousands of lower-income residents evacuated New Orleans for good; a decade after the storm, recovery in the city has not been even, as four of the city's poorest neighborhoods are still largely abandoned. "There are families that couldn't evacuate, even if they wanted to," Makeup Junkie's Jurica explains of her decision to take in some flood victims. "They don't have family out of town, money for a hotel, or food. It's not that they wanted to stay and put themselves in danger."

Still, she recognizes that natural disasters are, in some sense, an equalizer: "Floodwaters are not discriminative," she adds. "It destroys $50,000 homes and million-dollar homes. [Rescue teams] are picking up poor people, and people with a million-dollar paycheck. It's the most mind-boggling thing I've ever seen in my life."

Jill Tanner, the founder and CEO of Southern Honey Boutique in Stephenville, Texas, and a donor to Roberts's cause, echoes that sentiment. Her business has generated tens of thousands of dollars worth of proceeds for flood victims, largely through sales of a single T-shirt design. "Those people did nothing wrong," Tanner tells Inc. "They're losing their homes. They're losing their businesses. It can happen to any of us, and if we don't step up and help out, who will?"

Published on: Aug 30, 2017