By Howard Ballou
As the second anniversary of Hurricane Katrina approaches, folks who fled the Gulf Coast are still piecing their lives back together. Many evacuees relocated to the Jackson metro area, and some opened businesses.
So how are they doing?
WLBT checked on two displaced entrepreneurs. One is just spreading his wings, and another is finding business in the metro not so sweet.
John Dolan had a thriving clothing business in Chalmette, Louisiana.
"I made custom suits and custom shirts for a lot of people throughout New Orleans," he says. "The dignitaries -- just about everybody."
That was before Hurricane Katrina hit. The monster storm turned most of St. Bernard Parish into a lake, destroying Dolan's business and his home. He says he lost everything.
"I have a young daughter, a 9-year-old, and a new baby -- a Katrina baby, I like to call her -- and I decided there was no way I was going to put my family back in that," Dolan says.
So he moved his family to his sister's house in Flowood. While he was there he helped WLBT Skycopter 3 pilot Coyt Bailey coordinate a relief effort of medical supplies and more to St. Bernard.
"They would just tell me what they need, and I worked with him, and he just flew everything down there," Dolan says. "He was such a wonderful man. He didn't charge. It was great. He went above and beyond the call of a regular citizen."
Almost two years later, Dolan is winging his way back in business with a franchise called Wing Zone. And he is already meeting with his partners and developers with big plans.
"We're looking at doing many locations throughout the Jackson area, but this will be our base here in Flowood," he says.
The future in Flowood is not as bright for Cheryl Blackstock. Her Aunt V's Candy Shoppe was a hit in Biloxi pre-Katrina, but not here.
"Our business is down about 50 percent," she says. "We're having trouble picking up wholesale accounts locally, so we've actually started our routes back to the coast and to Hattiesburg."
Blackstock says she had to close her Ridgeland store, and the Flowood store apparently is not far behind.
"We're in the planning stages right now of trying to relocate to go back home," Blackstock says.
She isn't sure why her business hasn't been as successful here -- whether it's the lack of coastal tourism or the proximity to New Orleans of the old store -- but she and John Dolan agree on one thing: "Everybody's been wonderful," she says. "They've been nice and friendly, and they've welcomed us with open arms."
The Flowood Chamber of Commerce held a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Wing Zone Thursday morning.
Aunt V's recently received the Perseverance Award through the Small Business Administration at a Gulf Coast ceremony and an entrepreneur's award from the Flowood Chamber of Commerce.