The twister dropped the couple back to the ground within a matter of seconds after obliterating their tiny business, known then as The Li’l Store. The couple suffered no serious injuries and found shelter within minutes, but more than a year passed before the couple got back on their feet, Joey George said.
Saturday they reopened their store in a new building, at the A.P. Hollingsworth intersection in Webster’s Chapel. A new name — Webster’s Chapel Country Store — is fixed to the A-frame building in large red Styrofoam lettering.
“We’re back and we’re proud,” Joey George said.
Resting on the new store’s counter near the register is a leather-bound Bible that was found dirtied from the storm and a picture of the cement slab where the original shop stood. The Bible’s pages are filled with folded sheets of paper lined with handwritten notes and its owner, Joey George, said he is more secure than ever in the faith he’s claimed since his teen years.
It’s a miracle, he said, that he and his wife survived the storm unscathed but for a few cuts and bruises. The generosity he experienced from the community while rebounding from the destruction was miraculous, too, he said.
One man offered to help fund his rebuilding effort. A local company offered to pour the concrete foundation. Three others offered manpower and helped finish the inside of the building.
“I know him and I know his predicament and I thought he needed help, so I helped him,” said Jerry Thornton, Joey George’s former youth baseball coach. Thornton was one of the three men who helped finish the inside of the galvanized-metal structure.
Thornton said he lives a short distance from the tornado’s path. His home was not affected, but he knows well the impact of the storm.
“You see the devastation of the building, but you don’t see the devastation of the person,” Thornton said. “It takes their heart. It just hurts.”
The store’s features — its doors, walls and light fixtures — are rustic. Raw oak panels are nailed together to form the store’s front door and the shutters that cover the window. The light shades are made from overturned galvanized buckets, the counter is made of raw wood. Hanging above the cashier is a chandelier of sorts — made from canning jars, the metal ring of a wooden barrel and hung from the ceiling with barbed wire
A coffee pot rests on a pressboard table top with a donation jar next to it.
“I never wanted people to have to pay for coffee,” George said. “I just make coffee and if you want to donate, you can; if you don’t, you don’t.”
Inside the store, packaged items — chips and candy — can be found on partially stocked shelves, while milk and meat can be found in the coolers. Products that give the small country store its down-home feel — crabapples, home-cooked boiled peanuts and locally made “Dink’s Jerky” packaged in sandwich bags with home-made labels — are all sold at the raw wood counter top. A large cloth checkerboard with oversized black and red checkers sits on a table near the register, so patrons can stay to play and to talk.
Surrounding the store are marred reminders of the storm’s presence — twisted trees, a damaged structure. But signs of progress are as prominent as the storm’s reminders: A new church stands down the road and new homes fill the scenery around the new business.
George estimates nearly 200 people came out for the grand opening last week. That, he said, is based partially on the number of hot dogs he gave away at the event.
The support he received from the community in the rebuilding process taught George lessons he never expected to learn. They’re lessons he intends to share, one conversation at a time, from behind the counter of his new store.
“Before the tornado, I didn’t know how to ask for help,” he said. “It’s OK to be helped by others and that way you learn to help others.”
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter @LJohnson_Star.