Home Business Downtown Nashville explosion plunges recovering businesses back into unknowns – The Tennessean

Downtown Nashville explosion plunges recovering businesses back into unknowns – The Tennessean

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Cassandra Stephenson
 
| Nashville Tennessean

Peter Gibson hasn’t seen his Second Avenue tattoo parlor since an RV exploded less than 40 feet from his building’s door early Friday morning.

FBI agents and investigators rushed to the downtown Nashville blast site and set up a wide perimeter, keeping residents and business owners out while they comb the debris for evidence.

The one thing Gibson knows for certain is that Pride and Glory Tattoo Parlor, a business he spent six years building, no longer exists.

Gibson’s business is one of 41 impacted by the explosion, which law enforcement officials said was deliberate and intentional.

In nine months, downtown Nashville saw tornadoes, a protest that resulted in property damage to several businesses, shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic and now, an explosion.

“You work so hard to get your small business through the COVID situation, and it was very, very tough, and then once I start to see the light, this happens, and it’s gone in two seconds,” Gibson said.

Perimeter remains in place; extent of damage unknown

The explosion caused significant damage to Second Avenue and shattered the windows of some surrounding buildings. Shock waves from the blast were felt several miles away. 

The monetary value of the damage has yet to be assessed because of the perimeter set by law enforcement stretching from James Robertson Parkway to Broadway and Fourth Avenue to the Cumberland River.

All businesses within this area — including honky tonks on Lower Broadway from First Avenue to Fourth Avenue — will remain closed while the perimeter is in place.

Officials say this perimeter will gradually shrink as outlying areas are searched for evidence and cleared, but the entire area may remain locked down through at least Sunday afternoon, according to a Saturday statement from Butch Spyridon, president and CEO of the Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.

Investigators are requesting that no one enter the secured area, including business owners and residents. They will work to make sure people can access their properties as soon as feasible, Spyridon said.

Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Ralph Schulz has been working since Friday to help business owners who want access to check on the condition of their businesses. Some have been unable to contact authorities or reach other resources due to internet and phone service outages caused by explosion damage to a nearby AT&T building.

CEO of Nashville Downtown Business Partnership Tom Turner encouraged business owners and residents of the area inside the perimeter to submit requests for assistance through hubNashville.gov, which now features a portal for Second Avenue explosion information and assistance.

In some cases, secondary damage to businesses appears to be ongoing. 

Ron Limb, owner of Nashville Downtown Hostel, said Saturday morning he could see through his building’s live surveillance footage that the fire sprinklers were still running. He said the flooding will likely cause more damage to his First Avenue hostel than the explosion itself. 

He has attempted to contact Metro Water Services to get the water shut off, fearing that the water may eventually reach the building’s electric panel and boiler.

“The bombing was shocking, but what is happening afterward is heartbreaking,” Limb said. “It’s our building, it’s our business, it’s our livelihood. I am responsible for everyone who works for me.”

Will insurance help?

The evolving investigation might cause delays for businesses filing insurance claims in the aftermath of the blast. 

Ashely Bergeron Segroves, owner and curator of The Studio 208 on Third Avenue, said she heard Saturday that her gallery lost all of its windows, but only one piece of art was destroyed. The building, built in the 1890s, has served as her gallery and home since 2006.

“If I had lost it, it would have been everything,” she said.

A structural engineer has been unable to access the building to begin an assessment, putting the insurance claim process at a standstill. 

Insurance Information Institute spokesman Mark Friedlander said these delays should not prevent businesses from filing their claims once they do have access. He suggests business owners and residents contact their insurer to start a claim even if they cannot access the property.

Standard business insurance typically covers damage to a business’ inventory and possessions caused by an explosion, Friedlander said, though this could change based on law enforcement’s ultimate classification of the incident. Officials have not yet determined a motive, though they identified a person of interest in the case Saturday afternoon.

If the U.S. Department of Treasury officially certifies an event as an act of terrorism, business losses would only be covered by terrorism insurance policies, which are optional and separate from standard business insurance. Property owners and landlords are typically covered for any type of explosion under their property insurance policies.

If businesses damaged by the explosion or shutdown due to the law enforcement perimeter have business interruption insurance, the income lost during closure will typically be covered, Friedlander said. This type of coverage is also separate from standard insurance and relatively uncommon — only one in three businesses in the United States have opted to purchase that coverage.

Moving forward among unknowns

Bergeron Segroves said she is most concerned about 2020’s strain on the downtown Nashville community’s resilience. 

“I know we’re a strong community, and I know we can bounce back,” she said. “We’ve proven it in the past. I’m just really concerned about everyone’s spirits right now.”

Nashville Mayor John Cooper said Saturday that federal aid is on the way.

The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency is currently asking the Federal Emergency Management Agency for help in getting resources to affected businesses by the bombing. 

“We hope it will mean a lot,” Cooper said. “The reality is that one of my concerns is that (this) isn’t covered by all insurance companies. Having a federal help and an emergency declaration should make it easier for businesses. I hope this can be fast-tracked.”

Cooper added that Second Avenue will look like a construction site in the months to come. He said he hoped that cleanup could start next week, but that structural integrity of buildings was the first step in the process. One building collapsed in on itself on the Second Avenue row. 

“It’s going to be a lot of money required to rebuild it back, and rebuild it back properly. Those businesses shouldn’t take a loss on this. They are going to be out plenty,” Cooper said. “In terms of what federal help we can get, the first step is to get it through Washington. It’s not unlike some of the tornado scenes I had to see in March. It’s hard to see one more street devastated.”

Schulz said disaster aid, insurance and community support will play large roles in the coming weeks and months of recovery. He believes the small businesses in downtown Nashville will continue to show “amazing” resilience. He anticipates that safety and awareness of security issues will become a more prominent focus in the area.

“We need to promote the fact that those businesses are safe and ready to do business again when they’re ready,” Schulz said.

Gibson said he hopes to find a new location for his tattoo parlor, ideally on Second Avenue or near Broadway. Several GoFundMe drives have launched for his business and others in the area. Those funds will help keep his employees afloat while they work to start over. Tattoo artists from around the world have offered support and help with replacing some of the more than 900 paintings and 16 machines lost to the explosion.

“You can’t ever make back the loss,” Bergeron Segroves said. “It’s gone. We won’t ever be able to make up the income that’s been lost, and we know that. But I think as a community, we are definitely stronger.”

Emily West contributed.

Cassandra Stephenson covers business at The Tennessean, part of the USA Today Network — Tennessee. Reach Cassandra at ckstephenson@tennessean.com or at (731) 694-7261. Follow Cassandra on Twitter at @CStephenson731.

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