Happy Joe’s closed for good

Happy Joe’s, 515 S. Duff Ave., suffered severe flood damage after floodwaters consumed the business Wednesday, Aug. 11.

Micaela Cashman and Devon O'Brien

On Wednesday, Aug. 11, Hank Kohler, owner of Happy Joe’s, waded through the murky water higher than his knees that enveloped his business.

Across the street, on the east side of S. Duff Avenue, the massive Walmart lot looked more like a serene lake with a giant building in it than a temporary home for hundreds of cars.

Walmart opened two days later.

Happy Joe’s is closed for good.

“We fought the good fight and worked so hard to protect our business, but we couldn’t do it,” Kohler said.

In his years of owning Happy Joe’s, Kohler became somewhat of a flood expert. He explained that when the restaurant flooded in 1993, he had to learn to protect his business.

“In ’95, we built an 8-foot wall,” he said.

Four feet of the wall sat above ground, while the other 4 feet were built into the ground. An 8-foot opening in the back and a 16-foot opening in the front allowed customers to enter the building, but the wall extended around the whole building.

Kohler said that since the flood of 1993, whenever Ames was in danger of flooding, he and his coworkers would use wooden planks, plastic, sandbags and pumps to prevent the inside of the restaurant from flooding.

“We haven’t had a drop of water in the restaurant since then,” Kohler said.

All that changed when the water level of Squaw Creek rose to 16 feet Aug. 11. Kohler said he knew he had to evacuate the building when the city told him the water would get two feet higher.

Eve Doi, vice president of operations and communications for the Ames Chamber of Commerce, said that while most businesses are recovering quickly from the record-breaking flood, help is still needed throughout the business community.

She said donations of clean-up supplies such as mops, fans, work gloves, dehumidifiers and disinfectant are still needed, and the chamber is calling on any organization to help.

Kohler understood exactly why places like Walmart and Target, both just across the street from Happy Joe’s, recovered so quickly.

“They sit 8 feet higher than me,” he said. “I guarantee you anyone at our elevation isn’t open.”

Also, Walmart has a staff several times larger than Kohler’s to help get things back in order.

Denny Dalles, manager at Walmart, said the corporate office is always prepared for natural disasters. He said they have a group of people devoted to emergencies who respond quickly to crises.

“The corporate office hires an outside cleaning crew to take care of [flood recovery], and our normal local parking lot sweepers helped out as well,” Dalles said.

But a small staff did not prevent Kohler from trying to save his business.

Once Kohler and his crew could get back into Happy Joe’s, they salvaged as much as they could and had every intention of reopening as soon as possible.

“We have cleaned up and recovered as much as we can for equipment and furniture,” Kohler said the following Monday. “I have flood insurance, but at this time we still don’t know what our options are.”

The next day, Kohler closed Happy Joe’s doors for the last time.

Across the street, Walmart’s many lights continue to shine 24 hours a day, seven days a week.