Bridge City’s ‘family owned’ fights back after losses
Texas Avenue was a single lane strip of Texas 87 in 1955. It ripped across the coastal prairie where the community of Bridge City had taken root. Along the main streets a fledgling commerce found niches that provided products and services for the needs of a growing community.
Jimmy and Ann Segura set up a laundry business that year, Bridge City Cleaners. Lee Angelle wasn’t born in 1955 when Cliff Hopper supplied the lumber that built most of Bridge City. But Angelle practically grew-up there as an employee and in 1995 became owner. Across town Crumpler’s Machine Shop has quietly manufactured parts for local industry on Bland Street for 51 years.
For three of Bridge City’s oldest establishments, “family owned and operated” has become a way of life. Their struggle to re-open after Hurricane Ike has been challenging but they are prevailing.
Bridge City Cleaners, Hopper Lumber Co. and Crumpler’s Machine Shop became, and have remained, among the cornerstones of local commerce from an era when family owned and operated businesses were the norm.
Steve Crumpler speaks with stern determination about the future of the factory. In 1998 a fire destroyed much of the machine shop founded by his father James Crumpler and brother Dulin in 1957. It took $250,000 to repair the building. The Crumpler business was also hit hard by Hurricane Rita in 2005. “But in all my life I would never have imagined something like this would happen,” he said.
Rows of heavy machinery, lockers and tools where tossed about and submerged in close to four feet of water during the storm.
Crumpler’s insurance policy didn’t provide coverage. The cost of repairs have exceeded $100,000 taken from personal savings.
With Steve, brother Mike and sisters Sherilyn (Crumpler) Brister, Ann (Crumpler) Martin and Jana (Crumpler) Fisette began the job of getting the shop up and running again. “I was concerned about our employees and getting them back to work as soon as possible,” Crumpler said, “Plus we had contracts to fill and bills to pay.”
Within days after the storm the Crumplers were greeted by many of his returning machinist who began helping clean up the 22,400 square foot factory layered with mud. The offices were gutted and put back together. The factory gradually trudged back into production as machinery was overhauled, repaired or replaced. For a family owned business like Crumpler’s Machine Shop the cost of disaster is part of survival.
The locally iconic Bridge City Cleaners sign on Texas Avenue has weathered three recent hurricanes, yet it still stands after five decades. The struggle to re-open is no different for “Miss Ann” Segura and her sons James, Tommy and Darrell. The cleaners and Segura home next to it were heavily damaged in the flood. For Bridge City Cleaners it was a total loss. Widowed in 1997, Segura, 82, still owns and operates the 53-year-old venture. “I lost all my equipment,” she said. Nevertheless, she remains hopeful and determined.
“That’s my life. I don’t know what I would do without it,” she said, “My customers are like family to me.”
Hurricane Ike flooded and ripped apart much of Hopper Lumber Co. Angelle estimates damages to the long established Bridge City lumber yard to be near $100,000. About the same he suffered after Hurricane Rita. The water mark on the walls is over three feet. “We basically lost everything from there on down,” Angelle says.
During Hurricane Ike materials, supplies and sections of roofs where flushed down Cow Bayou and scattered a half mile.
Insurance covered the storm damage but not the flood.
“At first we didn’t know if it where possible to open back up or not,” Angelle said, “We started doing what we could with what we had.” For Hopper Lumber, recovery from Hurricane Ike began when customers started coming through the door- even as repairs to the buildings were still being made.
“We couldn’t open yet but provided whatever we could and kept records manually. There was no electricity or computers.” Angelle eventually propped a “Now Open” sign near the location. “My suppliers were very understanding and we started bringing in new inventory as soon as we could.”
According to Angelle, the decision to remain in business was based on what he feels to be a responsibility to the community. “We live and grew up here. Raised our kids here. Our objective is to help Bridge City rebuild,” he said. “Our inventory now is mainly the type of supplies and materials needed most for rebuilding and repair.”
Angelle is getting a helping hand from a far away friend, Ken Perkins. Perkins and Angelle had worked together when the company was still owned by Cliff Hopper. Perkins became a computer programer who now resides near Olympia, Wash. Seeing the devastation of Bridge City on national news he came back to help his old friend.
According to Perkins, the crew works all day into the evening. “As long as somebody needs something,” he said.
All of the Bridge City business community is struggling forward. Most are gradually recovering. Possibly the oldest remaining family establishment in town, Dupuis Tire and Service Center, was back in operation soon after residents began returning.
Crumpler says five weeks after Hurricane Ike, the machine shop was in production at normal capacity. At Hopper Lumber, Angelle is looking for workers to help get out more supplies. Bridge City Cleaners is open from 8 a.m. to noon for some services and alterations. “Miss Ann” is in Pasadena, Texas, with her son Darrell and his wife Georgia, waiting on word from her insurance adjuster.
She plans to purchase new equipment and re-open full-time.