Workmen from Young's Floor Covering were laying down new linoleum on the floor of the Computer Co-op, in Jackson's Fondren area July 20. Though the business and its neighbors are partial to renovation and inside design changes, the new linoleum going down that day had nothing to do with aesthetics.
"The water came in everywhere here," said Computer Co-op Office Manager Charlotte Lundemo, gesturing to the west wall. "It came in under the wall here. It just poured in from the Rainbow co-op when it rained here yesterday, and the sandbags back there this time didn't stop it."
Rainbow Grocery Assistant Manager Beth Ramsey can point out the source of the water. She pushes through the delivery door behind the building, strolls past the glass recycling bins (the only ones for glass in Jackson) and points down to the dark, damp cement under the curb. Anyone with a carpenter's level can quickly estimate that a low incline faces the back of the building on all three sides. In fact, drop a tennis ball anywhere behind the building, and the yellow ball rolls with varying speed to the wall beside Rainbow Grocery's back door.
Tennis balls and water behave similarly when it comes to gravity. The water, however, has the advantage of mass, especially when hundreds of gallons of it are rolling off the steep slope of Fondren Place.
Lundemo said she and her husband, Computer Co-op owner Luke Lundemo, are moving to make their business more amphibious by laying down linoleum, but she doubts even a plastic floor will survivegully-washers pouring in from the back of the plaza.
"We've already had to tear out the carpet, but we're not even sure the linoleum here will stay down if we get another rain like yesterday," Lundemo says.
Five years ago, Robert Malouf and Ann Guion built an addition to the north end of Fondren plaza, cutting over the parking lot, extending the sidewalk and building over a city drain that once received water tumbling down from State Street via Fondren Place.
Employees at St. Martin's say the business has also fallen victim to infrequent flooding. Neither Guion or Malouf could be reached for comment.
The flooding at Fondren proves more problematic than flooding at other plazas throughout the city. Most plaza properties in Jackson and surrounding areas have only one owner, with several leasers. The co-op plaza, however, contains multiple owners.
Malouf and Guion, for instance, own the recent north side addition. Rainbow Grocery has a lease-to-own plan of its own and may soon have property rights to its plot as well. Separate owners also hold titles to Montgomery Hardware and Cups coffee shop.
Despite the intimidating variety, however, many individual owners are in agreement on where the blame lies for flooding.
"I think the city should have had city planners and engineers that knew better than to let this business build over a drain," said Ann Herlihy, owner of Fondren Traders. "They should've known this would cause some problems. Fondren is the growing place. It's the neighborhood to be. We've helped revitalize this whole community, but now the property is getting de-valued because of flood problems. You can't conduct business with water coming through your walls."
Camp Best, executive director of the non-profit Fondren Renaissance Foundation, said the foundation would take the problem to the city before knocking heads with individual business owners.
"Regardless of whose property is causing the flooding, I think the ultimate responsibility lies with the city," Best said. "This flooding has been going on for years, but like anything else, it raises its ugly head when it really gets bad, and they've had a couple of back-to-back events that brought it all up.
City Public Works Director Thelman Boyd said the city would make an assessment of how much repair work would cost. Boyd added that the city would first try to pay for the repair itself before going to owners.
"We'll try to get some money where we can, whether it be federal funds or ... maybe the city will do a bond issue in the future, or, if that takes too long, we may go to the business owners and come to some type of agreement to see what we can do," Boyd said.
Ward 7 Councilwoman Margaret Barrett-Simon said she recognized the value of the area and would put the flood problem on the council agenda.
"Rainbow is invaluable. Rainbow provides something that no one else in the city provides, and I take the future of Rainbow very seriously," Barret-Simon said
The councilwoman said she had alerted the city to the flood problem earlier this year, and the city responded by cleaning some street drains near the affected area, though the drains were too far away to make any immediate difference.
Best said city residents could help with the flood problem by sharing their concerns with city government.
"It's important for residents to really push for this and make sure the city understands the value of these retailers who're being affected," Best said.