The Fourth of July will be even more of a celebration in Alton and Grafton this year, as the riverfront communities mark the reopening of businesses following major flooding last month.
“We’re lucky,” said Stephanie Tate, marketing and communications director for Great Rivers & Routes Tourism Bureau. “The Fourth of July this year is going to be a grand reopening for everyone along the Mississippi and Illinois rivers.”
Flood waters in communities along the Mississippi River reached within a few feet of 1993 historic levels in June. The water forced many businesses to close, while those that remained open saw fewer customers.
“It’s going to be a big relief,” said Alton Mayor Brant Walker. “Having our riverfront come back to life, it’s big for us because retail is a big part of our economy in our city.”
The Alton Fireworks Spectacular takes place at 9:30 p.m. Wednesday, with festivities continuing into the Fourth of July. Grafton will start celebrating on Thursday and continue through the weekend, with fireworks on Saturday.
Tate said officials in riverfront communities are making sure people know local shops and restaurants are open for business and ready to celebrate the river receding to its banks. The hope is that a big turnout for holiday festivities will mitigate the flooding’s impact on stores.
“A lot of businesses were open during the flood, but because of the way the roads were closed, it was more difficult to get to them,” Tate said. “The businesses that were open still suffered.”
That was true for Kelly Olmsted, owner of The Grapevine, a children’s boutique in Alton.
“People didn’t know what was open, what was closed,” she said. “Parking has been a nightmare because there’s been so much traffic and so many people coming to take pictures of the flood.”
While Olmsted said flood onlookers didn’t find their way into her shop, that wasn’t true for all businesses. Second Reading Book Shop owner John Dunphy said he had an “endless stream” of people passing by his store and many stopped.
“Actually, and I feel terribly guilty about this,” he said, “the people who were in the lower end of Alton suffered horribly, but I actually benefited in business because there were so many sightseers.”
After the Independence Day celebrations, communities will turn their attention back to damage assessment and rebuilding.
“It’s going to be very, very expensive,” Walker said. “We have not yet completed the assessment of damage.”
But it’s a reality he said those who live along the river accept.
“Alton is a strong community, and we’re all trying to kick back and come back from this,” Olmsted said. “I mean, everyone did it in '93.”
Tate said: “That spirit, you don’t find in a lot of places. You find it here.”
In the face of these natural disasters, she said residents and shop owners don’t leave. She said they clean up, reopen their doors and get better at preparing for the next flood.
Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project.
Follow Eric on Twitter: @EricDSchmid
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