Freak tornado brings opportunity to rebuild


July 2018—

The voice on the phone left no room for uncertainty: “Everything is gone.”

That’s a phone call no business owner expects to get. But it’s what Ronne Kurlancheek heard when her operations manager, Ashley Ash, called at shortly before midnight on June 13.

By the light of the next morning it was apparent that the tornado that touched down in Wilkes Barre, Pa.’s business district didn’t actually take all the furniture from Kurlancheek’s showroom. But the 130 mile-per-hour winds peeled the roof from the back corner of the building, took out walls, ripped wires and insulation from the ceiling, toppled furniture, and left mud on the floor and shards of glass everywhere.

Small business owners juggle unexpected situations every day—products arrive damaged, roofs leak, plumbing breaks, power goes out, technology fails—but a tornado in a Northeastern Pennsylvania valley? “That’s rare,” said Kurlancheek. “They say it happens once every 30 years around here. I guess we were due.”

Kurlancheek Home Furnishings moved to its Mundy Street location in January of 2014; Kurlancheek bought the property about two months before the storm.

The building and the merchandise in it were declared a total loss, but electronic and paper files were left intact, no one was hurt, and Ronne was well prepared with her insurance coverage.

The Kurlancheek Home Furnishings team acquired and set up a temporary office and warehouse within a week of the tornado. Staff has verified the status of open orders and contacted customers. Previously ordered merchandise that had not been received at the Kurlancheek warehouse before the storm is being received and delivered on a normal schedule, and new orders are being written.

Ronne is optimistic about the future. “The community has been very supportive. We’ll continue to move forward and come back better than ever, she says. “Kurlancheek Home Furnishings is more than a business—it’s a family.” At times like this, that’s invaluable.

Kurlancheek’s grandfather, Jacob Kurlancheek, started the business in 1898 in nearby Duryea. The torch was passed to Jacob’s son, Ben, and his wife, Priscilla, and then to Ronne and her brother, Paul. Over the years, stores were added in Wilkes-Barre, Bloomsburg, Dallas and Chinchilla. Ronne and Paul decided to close the business in 1998 because it had become too big. Both pursued different interests for a few years before Ronne jumped back into the furniture business when she bought another store in 2005 and reopened it under the family name.

Despite seeing the building destroyed, Kurlancheek remains “incredibly positive,” Ash said. “She has such perseverance and direction, it’s really astonishing.”

Ash said Kurlancheek, 67, sees the opportunity to rebuild the business as “something that she can truly envision completely instead of having to retrofit to an existing building. She says it’s a fresh start.

“I think it would have been a different story if her grandfather had laid each brick in this store and she had spent her childhood running around in there (like she did in the Duryea store). But because it’s such a new place, it’s a time of new beginnings,” Ash said.

Ash said Kurlancheek has identified a temporary location in nearby Edwardsville where current furniture orders can be filled, and new orders can be placed. Information about the storm was posted on the website and the store’s Facebook page, and employees are contacting customers about their orders, Ash said.

“It has been amazing, the outpouring of generosity and compassion everyone has had,” Ash said. “It’s been heartwarming, for sure.”