Orange landmarks survive storm, reopen
After cleaning up from Hurricane Ike, Farmers Mercantile in downtown Orange is open for business. (Photo by Dave Rogers)
Dave Rogers / For The Record
One bills itself as the store “with a little bit of everything — except clothes.”
Across the street, the other is an office supply store that sells a lot of office furniture.
Both are downtown Orange landmarks with old-timey names.
The owners of Farmers Mercantile and The Orange Stationer plan to keep it that way.
Both reopened for business just days after the water generated by Hurricane Harvey left downtown.
Paul Dickerson checks the work of “Ergo,” the numbers-crunching mannequin and about the only thing left in The Orange Stationer showroom after Hurricane Harvey. The Division Street business is operating from its warehouse next door.
“We expect to come back,” Paul Dickerson, owner of The Orange Stationer, said last Friday.
He and his staff were busy taking and placing orders from their temporary offices in the warehouse. It’s directly behind, and, most importantly, elevated from the 1910 structure that normally houses – and will again in as soon as three weeks, Dickerson vows – the showroom and sales offices of The Orange Stationer.
“We took on 18 inches of water, lost our displays and our printing equipment,” Dickerson said.
The Orange Stationer has been in business for 65 years and in the location just a stone’s throw from the Sabine River since 1975.
“The water came up to 18 inches,” Dickerson said. “Then it went down to street level. Then it started coming back up through the drains.”
The Farmers Mercantile building sits where the Orange Opera House was before a 1909 fire. The current structure was built in 1919 as a Buick dealership and the property was purchased by Dan Harris’ grandfather, said Lue Harris, Dan’s wife.
Farmers Mercantile opened on that location as a general store in 1928, Lue Harris said, and the family has run it ever since.
“We survived one more time,” she said. “If it happens [floods] again, I don’t know.”
Hurricane Ike in 2008 was the worst, she said.
“In Ike, we had three or four feet of saltwater. It was slimy,” Harris recalled.
“This was freshwater. We had an average of two feet of water in here. We lost all of our feed, and we lost from the bottom shelf down.
As Dickerson referred to water going down, then rising again through storm grates, the Mercantile cleanup was far from simple.
“We had lots of help, and we got it cleaned up so that a lot of people didn’t think we took water,” Lue Harris said. “But the floors just kept buckling. What we didn’t know at first was that we had probably 13 inches of water under the floor.”
The building had only a dirt floor until 1954, she said, and the wood flooring was raised from that when installed, so water sat in the space between the ground and the flooring’s planks.
It took four days of pumping and floor repair, Harris said.
“We’re slowly restocking,” she said. “We opened Monday [Sept. 11], but most of our vendors could not get down here then.”
As always her store will stock “a little bit of everything – except clothes.”
“We have a little bit of hardware, a little bit of tack, feed, herbs and garden supplies, insecticides, pesticides, housewares, hand tools, hoes, shovels, case knives …”
The list goes on, sounding a little like Bubba describing the ways his momma can cook shrimp in the movie Forrest Gump.
The Orange Stationer also has a long list of goods to sell.
Of course, four decades ago those included office supplies like steno pads and ledger books, later tractor-fed computer paper.
The company mascot, a mannequin named Ergo, still sits a comfortable chair in front of a manual adding machine in the front window.
“We’ve had a change in business,” Dickerson said. “The traditional office supply business has gone down, but we’ve expanded.”
The company has added printing services and now sells janitorial and restaurant supplies. And it has gone into new and used office furniture in a big and different way.
“We don’t deliver a box,” Dickerson said. “We deliver a ready-to-go office.”
Which is pretty timely.
“Right now, it’s all the furniture [in demand],” he said. “It’s about getting them back where they can operate efficiently.”
At the corner of Division and 6th Streets downtown, two Orange standbys are standing by for Orange.