Some downtown businesses estimate weeks, months of down time

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On any other weekend, the streets of downtown St. Augustine would be bustling with tourists, historic re-enactors and horse-drawn carriages. This weekend, however, only whirring chain saws and swishing brooms pierced the silence of the otherwise still streets.

In establishments where cleanup from Hurricane Matthew has started, the smell of industrial-strength cleansers and disinfectants slightly masked the stench of muck that covered nearly every ground-level surface in the Colonial Quarter.

At St. Augustine Bike Rentals, on the corner of King and Riberia streets, manager Steve Vescovi scanned the scooters that lay on their sides and side-by-side scooters filled with leaves, plastic bottles and other debris Saturday morning.

“This is really a lot of damage for us because of the level that the water got to,” he said. “All of these motors are full of water now.”

Some of the inventory was moved inside when they evacuated on Thursday, but most of it was locked down outside.

Vescovi said the shop owner will send extra mechanics in to recondition the vehicles that are popular with downtown tourists, but it could take some time.

“We probably won’t be in business for a week now,” he said. “Thank goodness this is our slow season.”

When businesses might be up and running is hard to estimate at this point. Some owners say it could take a month, but others say they could be ready in a few days.

“We’re primarily just a retail store,” said Andrew Riley, general manager of The Hyppo on Charlotte Street. “We don’t actually produce our product on-site, so honestly, as long as we get the store cleaned out and safe, we could be open Monday or Tuesday.”

Part of the reason The Hyppo fared so well is the floor is elevated. Other downtown businesses were not as fortunate.

Stephen Hutson who owns Catch 27 on Charlotte Street and 27 Smokehouse on Hypolita Street said both of his restaurants will need some work, and reopening could take two to four weeks.

“Our main dining room is elevated,” Hutson said of the Charlotte Street location. “But our kitchen got 2 feet of water. We’re probably going to have to replace close to $40,000 worth of equipment.”

The situation at his Hypolita Street restaurant demonstrates what those who love the Ancient City fear most — losing significant reminders of St. Augustine’s long and storied past.

Hutson said the floors were original to the building, which was constructed in 1920. And they will probably have to be replaced.

“It doesn’t look good,” Hutson said. “By the end of the week, we’ll probably be able to see the ground underneath from all the bowing.”

As for the kitchen equipment, Hutson said they will take everything out and deep clean it, if it’s salvageable.

“It was sitting in 2 feet of salt water and sewage and who knows what for about eight hours,” he said.

The Hyppo and Hutson’s restaurants are a little farther from the bayfront where buildings were flooded with 5 to 6 feet of water.

On Sunday morning, employees were helping clean up at Harry’s Bar & Grille, Meehan’s Irish Pub and the Best Western Historial Inn, all of which are on Avenida Menendez, one of the hardest hit streets.

“It’s just gross,” said Julia Johnson, front desk manager at Best Western Historical Inn. “The whole bottom floor’s a mess.”

In addition to employees, more than a dozen teens from area schools volunteered to help clean up downtown businesses this weekend for community service hours.

Their assistance was a welcome relief for some owners whose employees evacuated, but others want to wait until their employees return.

“I have employees who lost absolutely everything,” Hutson said. “I’d rather give that work to them.”