After Devastating Flooding, Some South End Businesses Must Start from Scratch

"We had a store that we were looking forward to returning to, and now it's gone."

Photo courtesy Boston Fire Department/Twitter

The coronavirus pandemic has been devastating for local businesses—and for the artists and makers of the South End’s SoWa district, things have gone from bad to worse.

Late Tuesday night, a dramatic water main break in front of 500 Harrison Ave. flooded streets and buildings, forcing residents to evacuate, submerging cars, and collapsing streets. It was a crisis on top of a crisis—and now the business owners affected are left to pick up the pieces.


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We are underwater. In the midst of store closure due to COVID-19, things have taken a turn for the worse. Late last night there was a water main break right next to our shop. This image is the parking lot at street level. Our shop is located below street level, which means that our space, and all of our inventory and equipment, was entirely submerged in muddy water. A total loss. It is not safe for us to visit the store right now to fully assess the damage. Our insurance does not provide coverage for floods (or global pandemics) so we are unlikely to get any relief there. If you want to support us in this time of great need, the best thing you can do is buy a face mask from us, and tell everyone you know to buy one too. The link is in our bio. We are donating an additional mask for each one ordered, because there are plenty of people in our city who are worse off than us right now. You also have the option to donate both masks, if you don’t need any yourself. We are making and shipping these from home, and have hired friends to help so that we can fill as many orders as possible. Everyone needs a face mask right now – please buy yours from us. If you are able, please also consider purchasing a gift card for future use. We DO plan to re-open if we possibly can, even if only as an online shop for now. We are still reeling from this news and haven’t had time to fully process everything. We’ll post more updates soon. Things that may be helpful in the near future are discounted or pro bono dry-cleaning and PR assistance, so that we can host a massive “flood sale” of any inventory we’re able to recover. Thanks for keeping us in your thoughts during this time of crisis. Nea and Mary

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Ash & Rose, located just off Harrison Ave., was flooded under six feet of muddy water Tuesday night. The store fixtures, sewing machines, and computers that were in the space have been destroyed, and Mary Savoca, who owns the business with her mother, Nea, fears that much of the inventory will not be salvageable either. The shop, which has been a fixture in the SoWa district since 2014, had just moved to its current location at the end of last year. After one holiday season and the routinely slow months of January and February, Ash & Rose was forced to close in March due to the pandemic, and now there’s no telling when the Savocas will be able to open their doors again. “It happened overnight,” Savoca said. “We had a store that we were looking forward to returning to, and wham, now it’s gone. There’s nothing.”

Ash & Rose’s neighbor, the AREA Art Gallery, was also devastated by the flooding. “It was really heartbreaking to see the water getting higher and knowing that we had works in the storage room that were getting damaged,” David Guerra, the gallery’s founder says. “Not being able to enter and try to help and rescue things was really frustrating.” When Guerra was finally able to enter the gallery yesterday, the water—which reached 4-5 feet at its peak—was still at knee-height. Guerra has spent his time since the disaster cleaning the space, assessing the artwork he had, and making painful calls to artists to inform them that their work had been damaged or destroyed. Guerra estimates that the gallery sustained at least $25,000 in damages.

“If artists cannot sell their creations, it’s difficult to pay rent; it’s difficult to buy food,” Guerra says. “If this community isn’t supported, it’s done.”

The Italian trattoria Cinquecento, located at the site of the water main break, was hit particularly hard. The restaurant’s parking lot and first floor, roughly the size of a football field, filled up with four feet of water within 30 minutes, says Jeffrey Gates, a partner at the Aquitaine Group.

“All of the walls, the carpet, the computer equipment, all of our electronics, our electrical system, our air conditioning system and our heat system— it looks like 100% loss of everything in that first floor area,” he says. One of Gates’ primary concerns is whether the COVID pandemic will affect his insurance claim—after a disaster like this, Cinquecento’s business interruption insurance is supposed to restore the restaurant to whole by paying staff and expenses. But because business had been brought to a near standstill anyway due to COVID (Cinquecento had been offering limited takeout options, and only for about a week), Gates worries that the insurance company might push back against paying the full amount the restaurant expects.

In the face of these cascading crises, Gates sees no choice but to simply take things as they come. “We got the plague, and the flooding, and I guess the locusts are coming next,” he says dryly.

Guerra and Savoca too are gritting their teeth and pushing forward. As they wait to hear whether the city will extend some relief to businesses affected by the flooding, both business owners are trying to sustain their missions. While Ash & Rose has ceased their online clothing sales for now, they are still selling and donating face masks, a project they began before the flood. Gift card purchases are encouraged as well, as Savoca hopes to have online operations up and running again in a couple of weeks. Savoca is also crossing her fingers that some pieces in the store will be salvageable after some dry cleaning, so that Ash & Rose can host a “flood sale.”

Plans for fundraising efforts for the AREA Gallery are in motion, and will be announced shortly. At this point, Guerra says, the best way to help out is simply by supporting the local artists AREA is dedicated to, whether that’s by buying their art online or just sharing their social media posts to increase visibility.

“The call for support of local artists is not new, but now, it’s even more needed,” Guerra says. “Circumstances were hard before. But they’re even harder now.”