A sacred bird in ancient times, the mythical Phoenix, reborn from its ashes as the story goes, has stood for centuries as a symbol of great strength and resiliency.
Since 1998 the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) has given its Phoenix Award, a national recognition, to a small business owner who’s displayed selflessness, ingenuity and tenacity in the aftermath of a disaster, while contributing to the rebuilding of a community.
James Silvestri, a Rhode Island small business owner, is this year’s recipient, and was presented the 2011 Phoenix Award last month, during the SBA’s National Small Business Week celebration in Washington, D.C.
In March 2010, Silvestri’s auto parts store on Canal Street in Westerly suffered major losses after 17 inches of rain flooded his business, but he rebuilt the store while helping his community recover.
When the record rains came and the nearby Pawcatuck River overflowed its banks, Silvestri, a Westerly volunteer firefighter, put his community first as he worked with the town’s first responders to help others in need. He pumped water from residents’ cellars, functioned as a department liaison for the town’s emergency management operations center, and assisted the public in any way he could.
Meanwhile, back at the family business, the flood eventually did its worst, rising to six feet above street level, reaching two feet high in the main sales area, flooding James’ entire inventory in the basement floor below. It was devastating, a complete loss.
Silvestri also was in shock to learn that his insurance policy did not cover the estimated $300,000 in flood losses. It would be an expensive undertaking, a tall order getting back to normal and reopening.
Fortunately, with the assistance of an SBA disaster loan, James was able to move to higher ground on Granite Street in Westerly. Others stepped in to help. His supplier, NAPA Connecticut, lent him 40 volunteers from as far away as upstate New York to help set up the new store. Many loyal customers paid accounts forward to assist in covering operating costs. At his place of worship, the Dunn’s Corners Community Church Presbyterian, congregants even provided lunch during the move-in process.
Within 12 days from the flood, Westerly Auto Parts not just reopened, but James was able to save 30 jobs and hire ten more employees. The entire experience is fitting of the Phoenix Award.
SBA Administrator Karen G. Mills said, “The Phoenix Award is an acknowledgement of a business owner’s heroic efforts and recognition of the contributions they make to the economic recovery of their communities. James Silvestri displayed tremendous courage and resourcefulness in the aftermath of the flood, and he exemplifies the spirit one must have to rebound after a disaster like this.”