‘Happy to be back’

NAPA Auto Parts in Elmsdale re-opens doors to flood of support from community

By Kristen Lipscombe

After quite literally wading through several challenging months, the NAPA Auto Parts shop in Elmsdale, N.S., is finally back in business, much to the delight of employees and community members alike.

NAPA Elmsdale manager John Marshall can’t help but vividly recall the day the shop’s old location at 601 Highway 2 shut its doors for good. The date was Saturday, July 22, 2023.

“It’s etched in our memories forever,” Marshall said of that fateful day, when the deluge of summer rain that affected homes and infrastructure across the province flooded its way into the former NAPA shop, with about $1.1 million written off in inventory alone.

“It was that crazy 100-year rainstorm,” Marshall said, adding the old location also happened to be nestled on the side of the highway closest to Shubenacadie River, which certainly didn’t help with the amount of ground water surrounding the shop.

The new and improved version of the NAPA Auto Parts store – which officially opened its doors Monday, April 8 – is located about two kilometres away from the old location, at 550 Highway 2, “across the road and on higher ground,” Marshall said.

Parts specialist Kayla O’Grady, 25, who grew up in the East Hants area, first noticed during the evening of Friday, July 21, that the amount of rain coming down was more than the community had experienced in quite some time.

“So, when we went to close up Friday night at 6 p.m., we actually sandbagged our garage door, our shipping and receiving door, as well as our front primary door that people walk in and out of it, just because we were expecting water levels – but not as high as they were.”

Later Friday night, while the rain continued to pour, Marshall received a message about a car getting stuck on the sidewalk right by the shop. “There was a Honda Civic that had been pushed right up on the curb,” Marshall described. 

“It turns out this car had flooded out trying to drive through the water on the road in front of the store,” he said, “so they pushed on to our sidewalk in front of our store to try and get it restarted because it was dry there (at the time).” 

“Long story short, they were never successful,” Marshall said. “So, that poor car sat there through the whole flood, and was flooded up passed the driver’s door and was a total write-off. It ended up sitting at our store for months until it went to the scrap yard.”

When the weekend crew walked in Saturday morning, it didn’t take long for the flooding to progress rapidly. By the time O’Grady arrived shortly after 9:30 a.m. that day, there was already about “two feet of water in the parking lot and about a foot of water in the store.”

NAPA Elmsdale’s dedicated staff members acted together to quickly to move as much inventory as possible up to higher ground but by about 11 a.m., “we noticed the water levels were getting too high for us to even be in the store,” O’Grady said.

Marshall, who could see what was happening through the shop’s security cameras the entire time, said “you could see the water filling in the parking lot, getting closer to our door, starting to come in the door, (then) it’s on the floor a couple of inches, now it’s a foot – so I made my way into the shop.”

By the time Marshall arrived mid-morning, the water levels went from inches to “over our waists.”

“I’m six-foot-tall and it was over my waist,” he said. “Everything was floating off the shelves, floating around, and our dumpster floated from one end of the parking lot, past us. It was literally just floating away.”

Fortunately, staff members had already moved their own cars, and were quick-thinking enough to save the shop’s computer server and safe. “We had tried to move stuff around to the higher part of our warehouse thinking it wouldn’t flood, but that ended up being under water as well.

“So, we weren’t able to save anything,” Marshall described. “Our giant garage bay, where our forklift usually sat, became a big swimming pool – it was crazy.”

As more bad luck would have it, as the rain started to slow down, the Shubie River’s tide started to come in and overflow. 

“There was so much water with no where to go that it broke the bank of the railroad tracks behind us, so it flooded our parking lot and that whole area, and then it could not recede because of the railroad tracks and the bank there,” he said. “And with all of the ground water, the storm drains were shooting up out of the ground.”

It took about four days total before any car or truck could move through the area on that part of the highway.

“We went from trying to save stuff to resigning ourselves to the fact that we’re only going to be able to save a few things,” Marshall said, but added his NAPA staff were able to find at least some humour in the midst of a difficult time for everyone.

“A resident who lives a couple of houses down from the store was kayaking by, and he did have a couple of beer in his kayak and was feeling good, and he said, ‘hey, if you guys need to use my kayak, go ahead.’”

So, Marshall and staff spent some time kayaking back and forth from dryland back to the store to pick up whatever they could bring back to safety, but of course had to put a stop to “the fun” once water started nearing the shop’s electrical panel.

From that point on, it was time to report the incident to NAPA Canada and its insurance company, with it not being until more than a week later until anyone could check out the unfortunate final damage.

“It was a total loss,” Marshall said. “Everything was recycled and destroyed and sent to the scrappers.” Unfortunately, products that have been exposed to water, moisture and potential mould simply aren’t safe for use by any vehicles. NAPA Canada is committed to being environmentally, ethically, and socially responsible.

Nevertheless, Marshall and team were determined to continue serving its clients – the garages and shops that have traditionally relied on them for any and all parts. So, NAPA Elmsdale moved temporarily across Halifax Harbour, to the NAPA Auto Parts shop at 202 Brownlow Ave. in Dartmouth, which welcomed their stranded colleagues with open arms.

“We wanted to keep the business going and keep our shops loyal,” Marshall said. While that meant some larger expenses for fuel, longer delivery wait times for clients, and a few other minor business inconveniences, each and every staff member was able to keep working full hours and the vast majority of clients stuck with the committed Elmsdale staff.

After coming together as a true team to ensure NAPA Elmsdale’s success, the shop signed a new lease in January and spent the next several months getting the new location ready to open its doors to the public.

“We were able to fill our store in four days,” Marshall said. “We brought in a team of managers and salespeople from all other Atlantic Canada, got all the product delivered and went crazy. We literally put away four 53-foot trailers that were full in those four days and stocked the store completely.”

For Marshall, O’Grady and the eight additional NAPA Elmsdale employees – including Kayla’s younger brother Kyle O’Grady, 22, also a parts specialist, “it’s a huge sigh of relief and a weight of our shoulders to be back in our home.”

“It’s easier for the team because everyone lives closer to the store and is from the community,” Marshall said, noting the flood impacted more than just his team’s NAPA location.

“It really effected the community out here. The Elmsdale Legion is still not re-opened from it and all of the other businesses in our area were closed for quite a period of time,” he said. “It was just such a historic storm.”

Next up for NAPA Elmsdale is celebrating with its surrounding community, from continuing to help with local fundraisers and donations for local schools, sports teams and race car drivers; to holding special incentives and promotions for its loyal customers.

The shop’s re-introduction to the East Hants community will be capped off with an official grand re-opening in conjunction with the NAPA Auto Parts World Series of Monster Trucks at Scotia Speedworld in late July.

“We like it to feel like a family in here. When people come in, they’re seeing friendly faces they’ve known for awhile and it’s a good, light-hearted atmosphere,” Marshall said.

“We’re happy to be back.”

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