McGregor businesses rebuild after July tornado

'We'll just push on'

The pharmacy, which lost its roof in the tornado, is seen in McGregor on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. The town, which largely depends on tourism throughout the summer, was struck by a tornado in the spring, which destroyed or damaged several buildings and trees up and down its two main thoroughfares. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)
The pharmacy, which lost its roof in the tornado, is seen in McGregor on Wednesday, Oct. 18, 2017. The town, which largely depends on tourism throughout the summer, was struck by a tornado in the spring, which destroyed or damaged several buildings and trees up and down its two main thoroughfares. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

MCGREGOR — Three months after it struck McGregor, one could almost trace the path the tornado took down one bluff and across the valley by following the line of broken trees, bent flagpoles and damaged buildings.

Contractors and builders still were at work along Main Street this week repairing buildings damaged by the EF-1 tornado that hit July 19 in McGregor, a town along the Mississippi River, with a population of 871, according to the U.S. Census.

Despite this, Main Street business owners say the storm hasn’t slowed any of them down. Once cleanup began mere hours after the storm, it was time to hustle.

“I was going to (reopen) no matter what,” said Crystal Scarff, owner of the tattoo parlor INKspiration.


“We cleaned up pretty quickly, even to a point when tourists came around weeks later they didn’t even know a tornado came through,” said Katie Ruff, owner of By the Spoonful specialty food store. “We’ve been kicking into gear (from) the moment the tornado ended.”

Neither the city nor the McGregor and Marquette Chamber of Commerce has an estimate on the total cost of the damage to the Mississippi River town, but deputy city clerk Duane Boelman said McGregor lost two historical buildings on Main Street and one residence. It hasn’t been decided if a second residence will be torn down, he said.

Louise White said the three-story building that houses her book and gift shop called Paper Moon had an estimated $80,000 to $90,000 in damage.


Kristie Austin, executive director of the chamber, said the tornado created a lot of hidden costs for building owners in damaged roofs and structural components.

“Every day, there are roofs getting work done,” Austin said. “People are trying to get everything done before winter.”

Workers could still be seen up on ladders and cranes this past Wednesday fixing roofs and replacing missing siding. The third floor of one vacant building located next door to the McGregor Pharmacy still is exposed to the open air after the tornado ripped off the back wall and the roof.

Despite this, most businesses were able to open shortly after the storm, White said — White’s shop included.

With tarps covering the shattered windows, White was able to open her store four days after tornado hit.

Reopening took longer for some others. The businesses housed in the two destroyed Main Street buildings have moved to new locations and reopened, Austin said.

One building had been the location of Scarff’s tattoo parlor. The evening of the storm, Scarff was in an appointment with a client when her next-door neighbor, Dan Sanders, ran over to warn her of the tornado. Scarff, Sanders and five others who were in the shop took cover in the cellar.

“By the time we were heading downstairs, we heard the ‘thud,’” Scarff said. “It sounded like nothing when the building came down.”

The tornado ripped her building nearly in two.


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Scarff’s shop reopened in its new location down the street on Monday. The first person in her chair this week was the same client whose tattooing was interrupted by the tornado in July.

Scarff said while it was frustrating not to be able to tattoo for three months, her schedule for the coming months is filling up with appointments.

“We’re good to go,” she said.


Hardships still could be ahead in the months to come. White said her store initially had a lot of customers through the door to show support.

“Then, it seemed like we went into a slump that we’re having trouble coming out of,” recalled White, who owns the shop with her daughter.

Now the Paper Moon owner said they’ve been working harder than ever to draw customers to the shop.

Among those affected and still in repair mode this week was Cinnamon Blood, a Muscoda, Wis., resident who currently rents a ground floor space on Main Street for her photography studio, Lasting Image Photography. The structure of her building, which is located next to Scarff’s former tattoo parlor, was damaged during the storm.

She had scheduled the opening of her studio — where she plans to offer old-time-style portraits and other portrait services — two weeks after the tornado hit. Months later, her doors still remain closed.

Blood, who also does wedding photography and rents out a mobile photo booth, said her studio “was a huge investment.”


“Basically everything from my business has been put into this,” Blood said. “It has put a hole in my pocket ... I think the only hardship is the fact I’m not getting an income. I was expecting the income from this summer to hold me out through the winter.”

Blood said she intends to open “as soon as I can get ready.”

Austin said McGregor and the rest of Northeast Iowa typically sees an uptick in tourists during the fall as leaves begin to change colors. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Fall Color Report, area trees are current in peak color.

This year holds a greater importance for Main Street owners, Austin said.

“The fall leaf season is probably even more important this year than any year,” Austin said.

However, it’ll take more than a tornado to blow away some business owners.

“I’ve been here 22 years, (the Paper Moon) is open year-round. I’m not making any changes,” White said. “We’ll just push on.”

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