LUFKIN, Texas -- Apparently it takes more than a hurricane to shut down the Brookshire Bros. supermarket chain.
With seven of its stores damaged by Hurricane Rita last month and unable to reopen, the company decided to continue to serve its customers in the area -- even though it meant setting up makeshift stores under tents in the parking lots.
"That was an unusual approach, but I can't tell you how happy we are to have been able to help out," Bruce Bryant, director of advertising for the 72-store chain, told SN last week. "We are in rural east Texas, where we're the only option for people in many of these places. We felt a real responsibility to get things open and support their needs in whatever fashion we could."
Using refrigerated trucks to store food in some locations, and setting up generators to power drink coolers in others, the company was able to offer local customers a range of grocery items they could not obtain from the Federal Emergency Management Agency or the American Red Cross.
Bryant said customers mostly purchased shelf-stable items like canned foods and bottled water, although he said the tent stores also sold a lot of milk, bread and eggs, along with a small volume of packaged meat products.
The temporary stores operated using portable, battery-powered cash registers, and accepted cash and checks only.
Brookshire Bros. also worked with local government agencies and with hospitals and nursing homes to provide medications in the hard-hit areas, where in many cases the chain had the only pharmacy in town.
The company set up the parking-lot tents on the Monday following the hurricane, which slammed into eastern Texas on Saturday, Sept. 24, and hovered over the region, causing widespread damage, power outages and flooding before moving on. Brookshire Bros. lost power temporarily in 30 locations, but by late last week Bryant said all stores, even the ones that had been damaged, were expected to be open again. The most heavily damaged store, in Silsbee, Texas, was the last to reopen.
Operating from tents posed several challenges, Bryant said. To make sure conditions were sanitary, all seven stores consulted with local health departments about the operations.
"It is part of the emergency management team's responsibility [at each store] to know that you have to be in compliance," Bryant said.
Even though many people had evacuated, the company was still able to staff the tented sales floors with a core of dedicated individuals.
"We have been real impressed with our folks and real proud of them," Bryant said. "Many of those people had damage [to their homes] and no power, but they stood right there to help people -- they were right there for their neighbors."