SANTA CLARA – The Santa Clara flood of Sept. 11, 2012, impacted many local homes and businesses, but none were hit harder than Dutchman’s Market and its owners, Nick Frei and Liisa Frei. Life as they knew it changed the instant flood waters rushed through the store, destroying over two decades of hard work.
The Freis opened Dutchman’s in 1987 as a young family with two children and another on the way. Nick Frei installed the framing with his own hands, one of the few parts of the building left standing after the disaster.
Located directly in the path of the flood, Dutchman’s was the first structure hit when the Laub Pond Dam breached the morning of Sept. 11.
“The back doors broke open and (water) filled the store until the front doors blew out,” Liisa Frei said. “The inside of the store must have been like a washing machine, with equipment being tossed around. A couple of chairs from the dining area were found a mile away in someone’s front yard.”
When the water receded, the Freis were stunned at the amount of damage it had done. Red dirt had seeped into every crevice of the building and every piece of equipment; thousands of hours were spent trying to clean and repair those items. The water-logged walls and floor were torn out and every screw and nail removed. Dutchman’s had no power for two months, as the electrical system was completely destroyed.
Dutchman’s, like many other homes and businesses affected by the flood, did not have flood insurance and received no financial assistance from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. But a wave of volunteers flocked to the store to help the Freis in their darkest hour.
Art Johnson, a 70-year-old retired builder whom the Freis had never met, showed up at Dutchman’s one day offering his help and continued to work faithfully for months. Custom woodwork artist Matt Gaus was another stranger who donated his services, working late nights, early mornings and even on Easter weekend and Thanksgiving. A local Cub Scout den, friends, relatives and countless volunteers lent a hand throughout the cleanup and rebuilding.
The process was long and difficult, lasting seven months and costing nearly $250,000. During that time, Dutchman’s 18 employees were forced to find other jobs (although two have now returned) and the Freis were left without their main source of income and massive outgoing expenses.
“Our normal life basically stopped and we worked day and night to try and get it open,” Nick Frei said. “We still have a big hole to dig out of. We look at this as a long-term recovery for both us and the store.”
As with the cleanup effort, the community stepped up. Service projects and fundraising efforts – including a car wash and bake sale held by the Latinos in Action Club from Snow Canyon Middle School that raised $1,600 – donations of materials, money and labor and private loans from friends and family, plus the Freis’ own savings funded the reconstruction.
“This store has been rebuilt by an entire community,” Liisa Frei. “We could not have begun to do this on our own.”
On April 9, the Freis’ struggle of the past several months was validated when Dutchman’s quietly opened for business. A grand re-opening celebration will be held on May 4.
“We are very excited that Dutchman’s has been able to reopen,” Santa Clara City Manager Ed Dickie said. “Dutchman’s was probably hit a little harder than most from the storm and flood on Sept. 11. It is an iconic part of Santa Clara and we wish them the best. Make sure to come and get one of their famous cookies to show your support.”
“As you stand in the middle of the store and look around at what was once filled with destruction, dirt and despair, now what you see is a life lesson on charity not to be soon forgotten, the kind of charity that happens organically because of the basic goodness of people,” Liisa Frei said. “Being on the receiving end of this charity has taught us what it means to love your neighbor, and what it means to be loved by your neighbor. We are so much better now.”
- FEMA money floods Santa Clara to repair Laub Pond Dam
- Santa Clara to receive federal disaster funds
- Temporary channel setup in Santa Clara as flooding precaution
- Lightfoot’s fundraiser for flood victims, another chance to give a hand
- Flood Aid 2012 benefit concert, auction for Santa Clara flood victims
- ‘Flood the Love’ crossfit event to raise money for flood victims
- Gov. Herbert requests federal disaster aid for Santa Clara
- Thousands volunteer for Santa Clara’s post-flood clean up (STGnews Photo Gallery)
- Santa Clara faces $3.7 million in infrastructure damage, FEMA little help to homeowners
- Community comes together in flood’s aftermath
- Dutchman’s Market, Frei’s, homes and helpers; knee deep in mud and water (STGnews Photo Gallery)
- Dike break in Santa Clara, flooding damages businesses, home, call for volunteers
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