JACKSONVILLE — Standing in the parking lot of K.L. Brown Funeral Home, Craig Bodiford can point to new-looking buildings up and down Alabama 204. Dollar General. An apartment complex. Jacksonville Church of Christ.
“It’s good to see progress,” he said. “I’m ready to be part of it.”
More than seven months after an EF-3 tornado roared down Alabama 204 and crashed into Jacksonville’s biggest residential area, it’s looking increasingly likely that Bodiford’s funeral home will be the last storm-damaged business to get back up and running.
For nearly half a century, K.L. Brown Funeral Home has been a place Jacksonville residents know — and can’t avoid knowing. There’s no other funeral home in town. If someone you know dies in Jacksonville, it’s more likely than not that funeral will be here.
That was the case, at least, before the storm. Today the funeral home stands seemingly untouched, with no obvious exterior damage. Inside, it’s unrecognizable.
Bodiford was at the funeral home’s other location, in Golden Springs, when the storm hit on March 19. He got a call from the one person who was in the building as the storm hit — an employee who’d come in, after normal hours, to deliver a body.
“He calls and tells me ‘the roof is off your building,’” Bodiford said. “Then he jumped into a bathroom to ride out the storm.”
The roof was indeed off the building. The chapel was stripped down almost to its metal framework. Today the interior looks like an unfinished, mostly-empty warehouse.
The storm left Bodiford in a bind. The funeral home wasn’t completely destroyed, which meant he’d get only so much money from the insurance company. Refurbishing the 1969 building up to modern standards, he said, will take some out-of-pocket spending.
“Our restrooms weren’t set up for people with disabilities,” he said. “You couldn’t build a building like that now.”
A bigger problem was the late-1960s architecture. One parlor, at the center of the building, is completely round. Other hallways and parlors, built around that circle, have curved walls. Bodiford can now shine a flashlight through the exposed rafters of the central parlor, where mazy-looking woodwork shows just how labor-intensive it can be to build a circular ceiling with straight two-by-fours.
“There are lots of things you don’t even think about with curved walls,” he said. “Just try to hang a picture.”
The new funeral home — and Bodiford says there will be one — will have larger bathrooms and will lose some of its more unusual features, like the half-wall that sets off a sitting area from the foyer. But Bodiford said he can’t offer a timetable for when the work will be done. Part of that is due to the cost of the uninsured part of the remaining work. He wouldn’t name an exact price tag for that work.
“It’s significant,” he said. Bodiford said he hasn’t seen a significant decline in business, even though Jacksonville residents are now dealing with his office in Golden Springs.
Down the road, the rest of Alabama 204’s damaged businesses are slowly clambering back to life. StarMart, the gas station and convenience store at the edge of town, reopened quietly last month, selling the usual convenience store items, but without gas pumps. New pumps were in place this week. Employees have declined to discuss the reopening with The Star, saying store owner Sam Mousa wants to talk after the store is completely up and running.
The site of the ruined Dollar General sat empty for months, but a building blitz in recent weeks has a seemingly finished structure in place. In an email, company spokeswoman Angela Petkovic said a grand opening is expected in early 2019, but a “soft opening” will likely happen before the end of the year.
A few miles out of town, once-demolished convenience store Edwards Grocery reopened Aug.1.
Bodiford said he’s impressed with the recovery he’s seen.
“We’ve seen the best in people,” he said. “There’s been more positive come out of this than anything.”