Restorer Profile: Back & Better Than Ever

Jul 1, 2010

Last August, a thunderstorm hit Thurmont, Maryland, causing thousands of homes to lose power and toppling trees throughout the city. One of those trees struck Main Street Upholstery, a four-year-old upholstery shop that specializes in convertible tops, seat repair and street rod interiors.

“It was just a normal thunderstorm and then it just gradually picked up,” said Robert Jewell, owner of Main Street Upholstery, whose house is located on the same property as the shop. “It was almost like a small tornado had come through and there were several trees in the area right around me that came down as well. It did a lot of damage in our town and all around the area.”

Jewell heard a loud bang that morning but waited until the rain and wind had calmed down to survey the damage. Once he was able to check out his shop, he discovered one of his neighbor’s trees had fallen on the back half of the 600-square-foot, two-bay shop.

“I had a shed built to the back of the shop that it just totally destroyed,” Jewell said. “I had some customers’ items in there that got destroyed, and then from the back of the shop in toward the center, about 15 feet of the ceiling collapsed and I had some water damage from that.”

Jewell had one customer’s vehicle in the front of his shop, so it sustained no damage. He quickly reinstalled seats in that vehicle and called the owner to pick it up, promising to complete the job once his shop was repaired.

Beginning the Process

Jewell knew he would rebuild his shop, but did have moments of doubt.

“The hardest thing is to walk in and see your ceiling is collapsed,” he said. “That’s how I make my money and [I wondered] what [I was] going to do to pay bills.”

Jewell immediately contacted his insurance company, who sent representatives to see the damaged shop and inventory equipment and customer items that were lost or destroyed. The insurance company paid for the equipment and customer items to be replaced, and compensated Jewell for lost wages.

“I was able to make ends meet because of having the loss of wages that [the insurance company] gave me, so that helped with my bills and everything,” he said.

With living expenses for himself and his family covered, Jewell’s focus became rebuilding his shop.

“The whole shop needed to be torn down because when the tree hit, it just wracked the whole thing so it was out of square,” he said. “I tore the whole shop down and added on.”

Jewell enlisted the help of friends and family, including one who’s a contractor and another who’s an electrician Jewell once worked with, for the rebuilding process, which took five months.

“My job for the five months that I was closed was getting things in line as far as electric and all my permits, foundation, walls, all that stuff,” he said.

The Claims Process

Jewell began the rebuilding process confident he was covered by his insurance policy. A month later, the claim for his structure was denied.

“When I got my business insurance, the agent told me that my homeowner’s insurance would take care of the structure portion of my garage even though it was a business,” he said. “[I] came to find out that your homeowner’s doesn’t cover a separate garage when there’s a business inside. You need a business structure policy.”

After learning his claim was denied, Jewell met with a lawyer who suggested he write a letter asking the insurance company to turn his claim over to their errors insurance since his agent had sold him the wrong policy for his business.

“When I initially went in for insurance, [the agent] did an application describing what I was going to be using the building for, the type of work, so I had my receipt from that very first insurance policy amount and all the paperwork they had signed,” he said. “I had [proof] that they made the mistake.”

Construction continued at Main Street Upholstery while Jewell waited for his claim to be handled by the errors insurance. The work was funded by a home equity line Jewell originally had in place to pay for shop expansion and renovations before the storm struck.

A Lengthy Resolution

It took Jewell nearly eight months to get a check from his insurance company covering the costs of the rebuild.

“The errors insurance sat on the claim and didn’t really do anything,” he said. “I called probably once a month and they really couldn’t tell me anything, so I ended up calling the Maryland Insurance Administration. Once I contacted them, [the errors insurance] seemed to have gotten on it pretty quickly -¦ then they offered me a settlement.”

While he was waiting for his claim to be resolved, Jewell changed insurance companies, going with a firm that was recommended by a restorer Jewell works with, and purchased the proper coverage for his home and business.

“The insurance company I went with specializes in small businesses. Other businesses he works with have their shop at their house, so he knew exactly what to get me,” Jewell said. “He walked through all the coverage with me, showing me what my coverage was and, if I were to have another situation, how they would pay me [for] loss of wages, customers’ items and different things like that.”

Jewell hopes other upholsterers, rebuilders and restorers with home-based shops check that they have the right coverage for their businesses.

“I thought I had [the right policy] before because the agent told me I was good everywhere, but, obviously, she made the mistake and I had to be sure I had the right [policy] this time,” he said.

Back to Work

When construction was completed at Main Street Upholstery, the shop had an additional 600 square feet of work space, plus an attic storage room for fabric and seats, and an office area, which Jewell didn’t have before. Central air, a new furnace and better insulation were also added to keep the shop comfortable throughout the year.

Jewell kept customers updated on the rebuilding process during the five months Main Street Upholstery was closed.

“I did have customers calling and I explained the situation to them, gave them a timeframe [for] when I would be reopening,” he said. “Thankfully a lot of customers came back to me. They said the liked my work and wanted me to do the jobs for them. I was fortunate that way.”

Once the shop reopened in early winter, Jewell completed the jobs that he’d been working on when the storm hit. He didn’t have a special grand re-opening event, but word quickly spread around town that he was back in business.

“It kind of just took right back off where it was at [before the storm],” he said. “As far as the business, I would say it hasn’t really changed. [I’m] still doing them same stuff I was doing before, just got more room around me to spread things out.”

Stat Sheet

Address: 311 W. Main St. Thurmont, Maryland
Phone: (301) 271-2298
Owner: Robert Jewell
Services Offered: Complete and custom auto upholstery
Number of Employees: 1
Number of Current Projects: 4
Current Project Cars: 1929 Model A street rod, 1954 Chevy pickup, 1965 Chevy Chevelle, 1969 Volkswagen Beetle
Approximate Shop Size: 1,280 square feet
Years in Business: 4