Cedar Rapids flood follows co-owner's death at Bills' Bros.

Retailer took significant financial hit in 2008

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CEDAR RAPIDS — Mike Bills, owner of Bills’ Bros. Furniture and Liquidators, has had a lot on his plate recently.

His brother, Bill Bills Jr., 52, co-owner of the business founded in 1972 by their father, William Bills Sr., died on Aug. 27 after suffering a heart attack at the family’s cabin in Delhi, Iowa.

“I had taken a few days to go with my family to Chicago before my youngest one started back up with college,” Mike said. “We got the call while we were driving down the road. I had a headache, so my wife was driving and I kept getting calls with my phone going off the hook.

“I finally took one and that’s when my warehouse manager, Jesse, said, ‘I hate to be the one to tell you, but your brother’s passed.’ I was in total shock, not expecting that.

“We had kidded around with each other about gaining a few pounds over the winter. He was really trying to work with his health and was so eager to get back to the cabin that my family has had since the 1980s.”

Two weeks ago, Mike learned that the family business at 303 Eighth Ave. SE would be threatened by floodwaters if the Cedar River continued to rise. With vivid memories of the significant damage and financial loss the company sustained in the June 2008 flood, he quickly decided to move to all merchandise from the store and nearby warehouses to locations outside downtown Cedar Rapids.

“We worked two 12-hour days and moved 18 semis of product out of our store and warehouses,” Bills said. “We had friends, family and volunteers coming out of the woodwork. We used over two and half trucks of sand to make sandbags as well as sending my sister to get additional sandbags.

“We also boarded up all the windows.”

When 11 feet of water blew out a wall and filled Bills’ Bros. showroom and warehouses in June 2008, it destroyed $750,000 of inventory, plus a relatively new forklift and cardboard compactor. Within three weeks, the retailer opened a temporary location in Town & Country Shopping Center and needed six months to make repairs to the downtown showroom and warehouses.

“This time, it was two weeks,” Bills said. The store will reopen at 9 a.m. Friday.

While Bills was preparing to reopen the business, he learned that his father-in-law needed surgery to open his carotid arteries.

“They didn’t want to wait too long,” Bills said. “He had one fully blocked artery and the other was about 50 percent blocked to the point that he might suffer a stroke. We had to get that done, and it was no walk in the park, either.”

Bills said having two experienced managers — Rodney Kula and Jesse Curl — and “really good employees” have helped him run the business after the death of his brother.

“We have taken the opportunity while the store has been closed to repaint and rework the offices,” he said. “I have taken my brother’s office and all the people who work on the floor will take over the office that I had.

“Everything needs to be done by a team. It doesn’t all get done by me.

“If I didn’t have a team, I would be in trouble.”

For all of The Gazette's Flood 2016 coverage, please visit our flood coverage center.

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