I frequently comment about the connection Hurricane Katrina still has to the stories I write.
Since Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in August, 2005, virtually every interview I do that is a profile of a person’s life includes what I now call “the Katrina component.” It is the way Katrina affected each individual during their life when that terrible storm hit over eight years ago.
If you were here when Katrina hit, you have a Katrina story to tell—where were you when the storm hit, how bad was the damage you personally suffered, how much does it still affect you today.
Folks that don’t live in the South think Katrina should be a distant memory for us. They don’t understand that the “Katrina component” is still a part of our lives and always will be. Just as our seniors who lived through the Depression Era and World War II will forever include that as part of their life, and how it affected them decades later, we will all have the Katrina story to tell and how it changed our lives.
I ran into another one of those interesting Katrina stories a few weeks ago when I interviewed Dawn Michelet, owner of the Red Carpet women’s clothing store in Mandeville.
Dawn is a fascinating person (and a good interview as well, I might add) and gave me a great story about her rise in the business world, now owning a Red Carpet store in Mandeville and one she originally opened in New Orleans years ago.
But in the midst of that story, she hit the “Katrina component” to her life and left me with another interesting tale that I knew I wanted to pass along at some time, since I didn’t use this information in the business profile we wrote about her.
Michelet worked her way up in the bridal store business, with one great story about how she convinced the owner of a bridal store to sell her his business when she was only 23. The man had been in the business for many years, was ready to close the store, and Michelet suggested he allow her to take over the store, and if it made money, she would pay him for the business. She ended up paying off a $135,000 loan in less than three years, sending her on her way to owning other dress stores.
In July, 2005 she opened the Red Carpet on Magazine Street in New Orleans, and decided it was time for a high-end fashion store, offering such things as cocktail dresses for $5,000, pants for $800 and belts for $700. Yes, it was certainly a high-end store, but if anyone could make it go, Michelet probably would have done it.
But then came Katrina less than two months later.
Her store was flooded, but much of the merchandise was still high enough to be saved. However, Michelet said she will never forget what happened in the aftermath of the storm.
With police unable to patrol the streets as normal, many businesses in New Orleans were easy targets for thieves and Michelet said she is still stunned to remember the way people busted into her shop and stole virtually everything she had. She said some thieves took entire racks out of the store and stole them, almost for the simple pleasure of doing it.
She told me that she would not have cared if people needed clothes because the storm left them virtually homeless, but she said it was crystal clear by looking at the way the store was ravaged that thieves were taking things just because they could. She said she will never forget the way it made her realize how some people can have so little concern for others—and steal simply because the opportunity is there.
I still want to believe that the majority of us would never do something like that, regardless if the opportunity was right in front of us, and we knew we would never be caught. I can tell she had her faith in people shaken somewhat, and I’m sure that “Katrina component” was difficult for her to get over.
But talking to her that day, I know she did recover since I heard several other stories of the way she has used the success she has received to help others. I still believe most of us will do that, and I’m thankful for people like her and many others I encounter in the work I do.
Happy Birthday to a pair of very special girls in my life.
My daughter Chrissy, whom many of you know quite well now for her work with the paper, turned 30 on Tuesday of this week, and my wife of 38 years turned—uh, you know I can’t say that—well, let’s just say she had a birthday on Wednesday.
I remember when my wife was preparing to deliver Chrissy, who is our oldest child. It was getting close to her birthday and naturally, everyone was telling her it would be “so neat” if they both had the same birthday. Well, it came very close since she had Chrissy about 15 minutes before midnight.
I told you about my 59th birthday a little over a week ago, and my wife and I are at that age that we don’t make much of a deal about birthdays anymore. Don’t get me wrong, we have a party with presents and cake for all the kids or grandkids, but getting older diminishes the interest in making such a big deal about your own birthday.
I have a feeling I will have to go along with some kind of big party next year when I hit the big “6-0” and that will be fine. I’m all about a party anyway, which is what we had this past Saturday night for Chrissy on the Gulf Coast. It was a great time and we especially appreciate some very good friends who made the effort to come to Biloxi and join us for what turned out to be a pretty late night event.
All in good fun, that’s for sure. If there is anything I live my life by—you can ask my wife—it’s about having fun.
Kevin Chiri can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org