The October nor'easter added salt to the wound for many Monson residents, including Sue Ziff. A small business owner, Ziff has suffered multiple blows from the recession and devastating natural disasters that crushed her "little American dream" and forced her to start a new chapter in her life.
Ziff’s 121 year-old home completed her vision of living in Monson: “The ideal perfect little town you dream of living in with the tree-lined roads.” But on June 1, Ziff found herself cowering in her cellar as a tornado barreled through Western Massachusetts, wiping out 20 large trees in her yard and damaging the roof, siding, windows and interior of her home.
Ziff lives on one of the hardest hit streets in Monson. Twenty houses were either completely destroyed or severely damaged.
“I’m not just struggling at home, I’m struggling at work,” she said. “This has been an extremely emotional year between living on Bethany Road and my little business that’s going to go down the tubes.”
The tornado affected many small businesses in the area, especially in the four to six weeks following June 1, said Gretchen Neggers, Monson's town administrator. Local businesses were hindered by building damages, power outages, debris removal and the widespread presence of contractors.
Ziff’s business Trinkets & Treasures sells an eclectic mix of antiques, handmade soaps, candles and more. Traffic to the business plunged the month following the tornado. Customers who lost their homes and suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damage now spent their time dealing with insurance companies and beginning an extensive recovery process.
“All my neighbor’s houses are missing. They’re not thinking 'lets go browse around this cute shop,'” said Ziff.
Neggers said other contributing factors include the changed scenery. After the tornado wiped out most of the trees in downtown Monson, residents are less likely to browse through shops downtown.
Ziff finally regained her footing in July and August. October was a strong month for business.
Then, “boom another disaster,” she said.
The early snowstorm left about three million businesses and homes across New England without power, including Trinkets & Treasures. She reopened after four days, but customers were scarce due to ongoing power outages and damages. Her total number of customers for November is smaller than her once average daily count.
“Thirteen a month just doesn’t cut it,” said Ziff. “You don’t even make your rent. It’s hard enough in the recession and then it’s the natural disasters.”
“It was a whole repeat of the tornado,” she said. “My shop was dead.”
These disasters aren’t the first strokes of bad luck Ziff has faced. She started Trinkets & Treasures in the midst of the recession, after being laid off from her job at The Center of Hope in 2009. Unable to find employment and feeling as though she had nothing to lose, Ziff created her own job.
She opened Trinkets & Treasures in March 2009 and made it through the first year unscathed. But the winter of 2010 brought snow and ice dams that created 10 leaks in the store’s ceiling. After a saturated tile fell and exposed wires, Ziff was forced to relocate.
Though she moved only two miles down Boston Road into Wilbraham, the relocation proved financially burdensome. The move took time away from business and she had to spend money on new permits, oil and new business cards.
“I don’t know how many more really bad disasters I can get through financially,” she said.
Two weeks after the nor’easter, fallen trees were still piled beside Ziff’s store, blocking the driveway. They also blocked the store's visibility from the road, crushing Ziff's hope of turning passersby into customers.
The administration office at the Wilbraham Town Hall told her that the Massachusetts Highway Department is responsible for cleaning the debris. It took Ziff, her landlord and her neighbor several days of calling before the trees were removed.
Ziff said she is at the end of her ropes and winter hasn’t even begun.
“I don’t want to know what’s next,” she said.
Photo Credit: Sue Ziff
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About the authors
Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.