Rebuilding After Hurricane Michael

Standing directly in the path of Hurricane Michael, the third-most intense Atlantic hurricane in history and the storm with the strongest maximum sustained wind speed to strike the contiguous United States since Andrew in 1992, was All About Uniforms, a family-run, local scrubs store in Panama City, Florida.

Before this massive storm ripped through the heart of Florida and in the process destroyed lives, homes and businesses, All About Uniforms had been faithfully, passionately and consistently serving the local scrubs community six days a week, 52 weeks a year since its opening in July 2009.

Hurricane Michael destroyed All About Uniforms and the total loss was heartbreaking to Sommer Hoewt and her staff, who consider their customers “family”. When customers walk through the door, Sommer and team get to know them personally if they don’t already. They determine exactly what customers need and help customers to find the right items, based upon fabric, fit, styling preferences and color requirements of their work.

“Local retailers create local jobs and commerce, which supports local business in local communities, keeping those communities healthy and leading to more healthcare jobs and higher wages for members of the healthcare community” said Mike Singer, Chief Executive Officer for Strategic Partners, Inc., the parent company of Cherokee and manufacturer of Dickies Medical, HeartSoul, Elle, and Infinity apparel and footwear. “We salute Sommer and each of our retail partners in cities large and small across the nation, who faithfully serve the healthcare community with passion and excellence.”

In an emotional interview, ScrubsMag spoke personally to Sommer Hoewt, owner of All About Uniforms in her beautifully rebuilt store in Panama City, Florida.

SM:
Sommer, tell us about the day you learned the storm was approaching.

Sommer:
I can tell you what I did, I cried all night with worry. But in some ways you can’t describe it at all, there’s a lot of emotions. As I looked at the pictures I felt somewhat blessed, but my heart was breaking on the inside thinking about what everyone was going to endure.

SM:
What happened next?

Sommer:
The storm was going to hit land on the Wednesday and evacuation orders were going around. We evacuated on the Monday, my husband called me and said we had 30 minutes to pack everything up. I picked my kids up from school, went home and just started packing. I’d never left for any Hurricane, I thought I’d be back in a couple of days!! We put some sand bags to cover the doors of the business quickly, I then took my insurance papers and left, I didn’t even take my computer. You just don’t think it’s going to affect you in the way it does. You know something’s coming, and you do your best to batten down the hatches, you think maybe there’ll be a window broken here, something else broken there. We never believed that our entire store would come crashing down. My parents and some family stayed in town, we had no idea if they were okay. I heard later they moved their fridge to barricade the door closed and stop it from flying open.

SM:
When were you allowed back in town?

Sommer:
It was around a month. I came back and forth, but I never saw the store again. I couldn’t. It was too heartbreaking. Plus, nothing was working, no phone, no electric. Nothing. I started hearing stories about what was going on, but it wasn’t until we finally reopened (which I didn’t think we would at the time) that I started hearing stories from the community.

SM:
What happened to the store?

Sommer starts to tear up as she tells us the devastating news.

Sommer:
It was a 100% loss. The whole store was flattened. We were looted too, so there was nothing to recover, if you look at the pictures you can see where it collapsed. It was destroyed. It was our entire World and overnight it was gone. It really makes you understand how things can be here one day and gone the next. It brings tears to my eyes, but we’ve been so lucky in rebuilding.

SM:
Did anyone help?

Sommer:
My insurance came through quickly. They were frankly amazing. But I have to say that Cherokee Uniforms was phenomenal. The night it happened I sent my sales rep, Lenny Fox a picture from CNN where it showed my store, I said ‘Im famous now, but not for the right reason.’ He was having dinner with Mike Singer, (the CEO of SPI who owns Cherokee Uniforms). ‘Tell her we’ll help her get through this’, Mike said. And he was true to his word. Not only did they help me emotionally, but they redesigned my store, and gave me support 24/7. It was unreal and I’ll never forget it.

SM:
You’re in the business of helping medical professionals, but how did this impact the community?

Sommer:
It will never be the same. Some hospitals are still closed down, some are functioning, but aren’t operating at full capacity. For instance, they have 60 beds instead of 300. They have become shells of what they were. Nursing homes took a huge hit, there are only 4 or 5 that made it. People lost everything, one person I heard of who was diabetic lost his toes, because he was standing in freezing water for so long. You’ll never understand what it’s like until you’re in the throws of such devastation. It was like the world was ending. Buses were taking people out, helicopters saving people from dire situations, it was a war zone. There are still people living in tents to this day. I don’t think the world understands what happens in situations like this and how some people are still living hand to mouth. A lot of nurses and medical professionals had to also take travel assignments or commuting jobs as they have no home to go back to. It’s just heartbreaking.

Eventually, All About Uniforms re-opened. It took 4 months, a lot of tears, and hard work.

SM:
When did you re-open?

Sommer:
February 25th, and we’re having our official ribbon cutting on April 11th. The community has been amazing. You learn a lot about your neighbors, and situations like this make you realize how important people are, how important family and friends are.

SM:
And where do you go from here?

Sommer:
To lose everything and still feel blessed compared to others is crazy. I can’t describe the feeling. We’re deeply involved in the community. We’ve rebuilt our store and are helping the community get back on its feet. It will be a long time, but the only way is up. I am so grateful and want to thank the community, our local medical and healthcare professionals and Cherokee Uniforms, all of whom have been so loyal and supportive in getting us up and back in business. We feel so grateful every single day to serve this amazing community!

This interview was Sponsored by Cherokee Uniforms.

 

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