Weatherworn sandbags still lay at the foot of the garage door in the rear of Sally Tennant’s Ellicott City store. Inside the building, where Tennant has lived and worked for nearly 40 years, half the floor is caved in, a reminder of the violent waters that shook up her life 13 months ago.
“That’s it, that’s the end of the store,” Tennant said wistfully as she pulled down the garage door leading to Discoveries, an eclectic shop she has owned and operated for more than half her life.
Tennant’s store was devastated from the deadly floodwaters that battered this Maryland city in 2016. But she managed to reopen, thanks to help from friends, family and strangers who became like family .
She wasn’t as fortunate last year when the second flood in three years roared through the town. This time, because of the structural damage and the safety threat, her building is one of four that the county wants to tear down.
Since November, Tennant has been working in a building across the street and about 25 yards from her own. The two-story, brick building has been a lifesaver for her business, offering a safe haven, the foot traffic and the “perfect” lighting to display her collection of glass ornaments, works of pottery and custom jewelry she has sold to stay afloat.
But her lease, which for two months cost just $1 a month and then was heavily discounted for the last six months, runs out at the end of June. A new tenant is moving in.
A sign details the jewelry Tennant has offered at her shop. (Ovetta Wiggins/The Washington Post) On Sunday, Tennant will close down the temporary location, too.
“It really has been an endless trial for her and all of the people down here,” said Jim Halcomb, a retired cryptologist at the National Security Agency, who volunteered at Discoveries in 2016 and has remained close friends with Tennant. “The most troubling part is that so many dreams have been shattered.”
Three years ago, Tennant’s life was upended when a vicious flood sent water rushing down Main Street in what the National Weather Service described as a once-in-a-millennium event.
With her cat stowed in a small suitcase, Tennant ran to the roof as the water engulfed the building where she worked and lived in an upstairs apartment. Two neighbors saw her and helped her escape to an adjoining building by pulling her through a second-floor window.
Days later, she moved in with her 20-something son, Brody, taking up residence in his basement while she adjusted to her “new reality.” Three years later, she’s still there.
“Poor Brody,” she said with a smirk, adding that she has been “upgraded” from the basement to a second-floor bedroom. “It’s going to be probably one of my better memories from all of this.”
In late 2016, she managed to reopen her store, in less than four months and just in time for Christmas holiday shoppers.
She was just starting to get back on her feet, she said.
And then the once-in-a-millennium storm happened again.
Tennant said she was standing in her shop last May when water began to crash down the street like waves.
“The sound of the rushing water was terrifying,” she said.
This time, with waters still relatively low, Tennant was able to walk across the street to a neighbor. Within two minutes, she said, the water had risen more than six feet.
“I was mortified at how close of a call that was,” she said.
Tennant said she has since gone from being “sad to being mad.”
She doesn’t just blame the devastation on climate change. Tennant said elected officials bear responsibility as well for not doing enough over the past decade on flood mitigation.
She is embroiled in a legal drama with county officials over compensation.
Tennant, who had no insurance on her building or her business, has been in negotiations with the county for more than a year about acquiring her building, one of 10 the county plans to either demolish or modify.
Scott Peterson, a spokesman for Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, said that Tennant, in similar fashion to the nine other building owners on what is known as Lower Main Street, was offered pre-2018 flood appraisal values for her property. Tennant balked at the offer and the county reassessed the appraisal, offering more money. Again, Tennant did not accept.
Tennant said she has been negotiating in “good faith” and had a promise from former county executive Allan Kittleman that she would be compensated for the hardship she has endured as the only business owner in the city who lost a building that housed a home, a business and a real estate investment.
Peterson said Tennant asserts that the value of her property is higher than what the county has appraised it to be. And Tennant’s attorney has missed two deadlines to provide an independent appraisal, Peterson said, adding that the county “is exploring other options.” Tennant said her attorney is working on the appraisal. The county, she said, is imposing an arbitrary deadline after stringing her along for months.
Now, the county has withdrawn its offer.
Tennant will begin packing up the merchandise that remains in the store and put the items in storage. She said she hopes this is not the final chapter of her business — even if it is its end in Ellicott City.
She lost her home, business and car in a historic flood. Now she needs to rebuild.
Flooded with gratitude: Sally Tennant reopens Ellicott City shop in time for Christmas
The Ellicott City rain disaster in two maps and three charts
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