By  on November 23, 2005

DALLAS — The Village Drummer, a women's specialty store in Gulfport, Miss., once had an enchanting view of the Gulf of Mexico. All that's left is the foundation and a tin roof.

Hurricane Katrina has wrought a future filled with uncertainty, said Laura Warr, who managed the bridge boutique for her mother-in-law, Kay Warr.

"We're considering rebuilding in that location at some point, but right now the city doesn't see any possibility of building down there for a while," said Warr, the wife of Gulfport mayor Brent Warr, who owns a men's store that was also lost. "There are huge sinkholes."

Independent retailers along the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas are struggling to define their next steps after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Some are opening permanent new locations in towns where they have relocated or have moved into temporary quarters elsewhere. Others are returning to their damaged communities and hoping for the best.

"You have to be optimistic," said Sharon Thomas, who reopened Purse Strings, her casual sportswear shop in Beaumont, Tex., on Oct. 10 after having been closed more than two weeks because of Rita. "We're all very resilient."

To reach out to stores, the Dallas Market Center Co. in September sifted through its database and identified 997 apparel and gift stores in zones directly hit by the hurricanes or just outside them, including Houston, said Marie Conners Levigne, senior director of soft goods retail development. Her department worked the phones to call all of them to find out how they were doing and offer market travel discounts to those hit hardest.

"We're hearing no 'Woe is me,'" she said. "They're so upbeat about getting back into business."

Nevertheless, the impact on wholesale business in Dallas has been significant.

"It was devastating and wiped out the southern sector of Louisiana for us," said Dana Melton, owner of Lori Veith, a multiline fashion and accessories showroom at the market center. He estimates that 60 of his accounts were displaced or temporarily out of business. "We hope these people can and do reopen."

Brad Hughes, whose namesake bridge fashion showroom is one of the largest at the market center, said about 100 customers have been affected. He received so many order cancellations that he can't bear to total the dollar amount.

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