Anxiety rises over fate of tornado-damaged stores

By Roger DuPuis - [email protected]
Much of the roof over the strip mall housing Panera Bread, lower left, has been badly damaged or blown away. - Courtesy 570 Drone
Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre Township suffered heavy damage. - Courtesy 570 Drone
Ashley Furniture suffered heavy roof and other damage. - Courtesy 570 Drone
The U-Haul store on Mundy Street was nearly obliterated by Wednesday’s tornado. - - Courtesy 570 Drone

WILKES-BARRE TWP. — Patrick Abdalla was straightening up around Barnes & Noble’s magazine section after closing time Wednesday night, but his mind was already elsewhere.

Intense wind and rain had begun to pick up outside the bookstore in the Arena Hub Plaza amid warnings about severe thunderstorms and possibly tornadoes. Cellphone reception had become spotty.

“It was so windy and crazy,” Abdalla recalled Thursday.

He was able to get through, briefly: Things were OK at home.

Abdalla nearly wasn’t.

“Within five minutes, I saw the side window blow in,” said the Wilkes-Barre resident, who works part-time at the bookstore while attending graduate school. “It was like a movie explosion.”

When he turned around, the store’s back wall was gone and rain poured in.

Abdalla was brushed by some flying glass, but escaped essentially unharmed.

His workplace had sustained serious damage, however. Barnes & Noble was one of at least 23 businesses in and around Arena Hub Plaza that were damaged or destroyed when the tornado, with winds gusting up to an estimated 130 mph, devastated the township’s shopping and commercial heart along Mundy Street.

The storm that swept through the area late Wednesday left destruction in its wake, but it also left businesses in the dark about what happened to their workplaces, and what happens next.

Social media posts from Barnes & Noble’s local accounts suggested the firm remains committed to its Arena Hub location.

“We will work hard to assess the damage and begin repairs as soon as possible,” a message sent out Thursday said. “We love our Wilkes-Barre community and look forward to serving you again soon!”

Robert Tamburro, trustee and general partner of TFP Limited — owners of the Arena Hub Plaza, Mundy Street Square, 275-277 Mundy St., and 100 Commerce Boulevard — said many of his tenant businesses were severely damaged by the tornado.

“God was with us,” Tamburro said. “No doubt about it. That nobody was killed and nobody seriously hurt is a miracle. To have that powerful of a storm come through and touch that many properties, like I said, it’s a miracle.”

Police and hospital officials have said about six people suffered relatively minor injuries Thursday night.

Attempts to reach corporate officials from three damaged stores — Barnes & Noble, Dick’s Sporting Goods and Panera Bread — were unsuccessful Thursday afternoon.

Anxious to see

Thursday morning’s bright summer light brought only more anxiety for many managers and employees, as barricades kept them away from the plazas due to safety concerns, including fumes from a large propane tank at the nearly obliterated U-Haul store on Mundy Street.

Chuck Sullick, general manager of Best Buy, couldn’t help but look from behind the caution tape and think about the fate of his store Thursday morning.

“I wasn’t here last night, so I didn’t get to see how bad it looked,” Sullick said. “My main concern was that my employees got home safe.”

Sullick said he has been in contact with the Best Buy’s corporate offices.

“They said to just them know if myself or my employees need anything and just to keep them updated.”

“Wilkes-Barre is strong,” Sullick said. “We just need to pull back together as a community.”

The general theme for every manager Thursday was to just tell their employees to stay home, because they themselves don’t know their store’s fate.

“I was in shock,” Michael’s store manager Hubert Herrera said. “I never thought this could happen in this area but the most important thing was making sure my employees were safe.”

Michael’s is located right next to Dick’s Sporting Goods, which was heavily damaged by the storm. Part of its sign was discovered miles away in Bear Creek, officials said.

“I don’t know if the damage from Dick’s is going to be a problem for us,” Herrera said. “But judging from a distance, I hope we can operate soon.”

At Barnes & Noble, Abdalla was one of only a handful of employees still left in the building when the storm hit.

A devotee of history and baseball, working in the bookstore has been a welcome gig for Abdalla, who praised his coworkers and managers as “amazingly beautiful, vibrant, funny people.”

“When the store opens back up, I’ll be back to work there,” he wrote in a social media post about the storm. “I look forward to it.”

Brigid Edmunds-Lawrence, Bill O’Boyle and Dan Stokes contributed to this report.

For more on Wednesday’s tornado, click here.

Much of the roof over the strip mall housing Panera Bread, lower left, has been badly damaged or blown away.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_panera-2.jpgMuch of the roof over the strip mall housing Panera Bread, lower left, has been badly damaged or blown away. Courtesy 570 Drone

Barnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre Township suffered heavy damage.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_BARNES-4.jpgBarnes & Noble in Wilkes-Barre Township suffered heavy damage. Courtesy 570 Drone

Ashley Furniture suffered heavy roof and other damage.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_ashley_new-2.jpgAshley Furniture suffered heavy roof and other damage. Courtesy 570 Drone

The U-Haul store on Mundy Street was nearly obliterated by Wednesday’s tornado.
https://www.timesleader.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/web1_uhaul_overview-2.jpgThe U-Haul store on Mundy Street was nearly obliterated by Wednesday’s tornado. Courtesy 570 Drone

By Roger DuPuis

[email protected]