A new business

Published 7:51 am Friday, September 18, 2009

It has been 10 years since Janet Piersa’s livelihood floated and vanished under an oily mass of fishy, slimy water. Ten years since the knickknacks and other merchandise in Janet’s Gifts on South Street shattered and molded.

Ten years ago, a flood that had swelled after the deluges brought on by Hurricanes Dennis and Floyd wiped out many businesses and houses in Franklin.

It has been a decade since that tragedy, but talking to Janet on Wednesday made it seem like it had only been 10 minutes.

“It’s still very, very painful,” Janet said, her eyes filling up with tears.

Before the flood, Janet had spent several years building up Janet’s Gifts, which opened its doors in 1970.

The top floor housed a busy beauty shop and the ground floor was crammed with gifts and candles, stuffed animals and other bric-a-brac.

“I had always been business, business, business,” Janet said.

That workaholic mentality gave her plenty of customers, but Sept. 16, 1999, changed that forever.

Hurricane Floyd had hit early that morning and the Blackwater River eventually leapt over its banks. Water started crawling up South Street and reached Janet’s columned building.

It seeped under the door and claimed everything in its path. At one point, Janet could look down from High Street and only see the peak of her roof under the murky water.

The business was gone in an instant and, suddenly, Janet, always consumed with business, was left with an immeasurable void.

When she was finally allowed back in her store after the flood, Janet and her friends got right to work rebuilding Janet’s Gifts — from cleaning out the moldy mess to restocking the many shelves.

But something had changed.

Janet wasn’t all “business, business, business” anymore.

“Ten years doesn’t erase the pain, but it made me take a new look at life,” she proclaimed. “I found out what was important in life. It wasn’t the almighty dollar. When I lost everything, I learned that I had to put myself and my family first.”

It would sound like a cliché coming from anyone else, but Janet has known the pain of working hard and losing everything.

Her words are real and meaningful and deeply touching.

When it comes right down to it, a flood could wash any of our lives away, couldn’t it?

So could a heart attack or robbery or any other terrifying and unfortunate incident.

In the end, Janet wasn’t thinking about Beanie Babies and Yankee Candles, or much else that had to do with Janet’s Gifts.

Instead, she was thinking about her husband, Stanley, and how lucky she was to still have him. She was thinking about her family and the time she would be spending to get to know them better.

The couple would rebuild and retry making a living at the gift store.

The lack of customers has Janet a tad worried about its future, but it’s not the first thing on her mind these days. It’s her community and her relationships and her family that keep her strong.

“That’s my No. 1 business right now,” she said.