Click 'Play' to hear Dan Marine talk about his business plans for the future.
WAVELAND, Miss. -- Katrina’s flood waters had barely receded when Dan Marine was driving into the disaster zone, against the flow of cars moving north, trying to get out. It was three days after the hurricane hit, and he wanted to see the damage to his home and furniture business on Highway 90. He expected it to be bad, and it was.
"A day before the storm I was the biggest used furniture dealer in southern Mississippi. The day after, I was looking for a mattress to sleep on," he says.
The large cement block building that housed his store was standing, but all its contents were ruined, including his warehoused stock -- about $1 million worth of merchandise, uninsured. His house, which he and his wife had completed and moved into at the end of 2004, had floated off its blocks and landed about 50 yards away. It also was not insured for flooding.
After seeing the damage, he left briefly to get tools and a generator. By day six, he had cleared enough rubble to make way for a furniture truck, which he began living in as he started over.
Marine and his wife, Lauree, now live in their FEMA trailer behind the store with a pack of energetic dachshunds. The lot has been largely cleared, and the store has been emptied of the debris and mud, power-washed, bleached and power-washed again.
In the effort, Marine has suffered two bouts of infection from mold, and twice had to put his work on hold for rest and treatment with antibiotics.
Nonetheless, Marine this week reopened in a small way, operating out of the back of a truck and selling merchandise that he bought by running up credit cards. Some of his old customers are back, and that will help with day-to-day expenses.
"Hey, so I'm carrying on," he says.
It is doubtless depressing at times, but for Marine the destruction apparently fueled the work ethic and survival instincts that led to his success to begin with.
"I just kind of shrugged my shoulders and said ‘oh well, I’ve got a lot of work to do now,'" he says, recalling his first look at his property. "Some people get depressed and they just can’t get out of bed. But you can’t allow circumstances that are out of your control to dictate your life," Marine says.
Experience taught him that. The business he had built was born out of tragedy 15 years ago. At the time, a bad car accident forced him to convalesce for months -- first in the hospital and then with family.
He had always worked construction before that, and his frustration with relying on others finally drove him to an idea. With his father’s help, he started selling used stuff at flea markets.
Initial sales grew until he could afford a retail space. Eventually, he rented part of a commercial building on Waveland’s main drag, Highway 90. Piece by piece, he came to own the building, the 3.25 acre parcel of land, and enough stock to fill it and two other warehouses in southern Mississippi. His cozy country-style house, which he had created from an out building, sat next to his store, Waveland Furniture Liquidators.
The power of purple
A lot of elbow grease, plus some novel ideas made it work. One of them was to paint the store a color that would appeal to women customers -- lavender.
"When I started with the color I had a motorcycle shop on one side of me and a tattoo shop on the other side of me … and I was thinking that a woman isn’t going to come within a hundred miles of here. So I put that color up there and everybody teased me, but they’re now gone, I own the buildings they were renting, and I’m still here," says Marine. Now, the color is often the thing people remember about the store, he says, even if they forget its name. "It’s the power of purple."
Katrina ruined Marine's recipe for success in a hurry. Now the store needs a new roof, all new wiring and other remodeling. The cost of replacing the roof alone was estimated at $25,000.
So Katrina has pushed Marine to look to the government for help for the first time, taking FEMA survival cash, signing up for unemployment and exploring government loans and grants to kick-start his business. Also, for the first time in his life, he is relying on his wife to generate income. She drives to Slidell every day to work at a friend’s furniture store while he rebuilds in Waveland.
"It’s a monumental task, when you look around," he says. Aside from the store, he has two other buildings on his property. "I’ll probably just tear them down, and build a strip mall. That way I can do rentals. I won’t have to work as hard, hopefully."
Meantime, the house remains where Katrina left it, off the foundation, and badly damaged. Marine was planning to haul it back into position, but is now beginning to think it may not be worth salvaging. It’s a shame, he says, because he and his wife poured a lot of money and care into their home and lived in it for less than a year.
But now he’s looking at fiberglass dome houses. As he talks about their attractive features -- the energy efficiency, the durability, the reported hurricane resistance of the structures -- Marine could just as well be describing himself, the tough, flexible guy who 15 years ago began pulling himself up by the bootstraps.
"There’s been a lot of people who started out with a peanut wagon on the streets," he says Marine. "It just takes perseverance. … You just put one foot in front of the other."
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