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East Capitol Avenue business owner nurtures community in tornado's wake

East Capitol Avenue business owner nurtures community in tornado's wake

July 15th, 2019 by Jeff Haldiman in Local News

Owner Annie Schulte sits on an antique sofa Wednesday at the front of her Encore Department Store. Schulte used her store to help those in need after the May 22 tornado caused extensive damage to the area.

Photo by Sally Ince /News Tribune.

Annie Schulte always knew people in Jefferson City had big hearts, but she saw how big their capacity for giving was after the May 22 tornado.

The owner of Encore Department Store grew up in the Eugene area before leaving for college then returning three years ago to start her business.

"It's just a great place to raise a family," Schulte said.

Schulte rode out the recent storm at her resale and vintage shop on the corner of East Capitol Avenue and Adams Street with her 10-year-old daughter and went on to become a conduit for getting people what they needed after the storm.

"The tornado knocked down a couple of plants, and I thought the windows would be blown out, but we were relatively unscathed," Schulte said.

It turned out Encore Department Store was the last building to have power on East Capitol Avenue after the storm went through, when no structures east of Adams Street had electricity.

"I remember looking to my left and seeing the lights of the Capitol building and then turning to my right and seeing nothing but black," Schulte said. "How that happened, I'll never know."

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After checking to make sure her two other children were OK at their home on Marshall Street, Schulte and her daughter got into their car to try to check on friends on East Capitol Avenue.

"We only got about 50 feet down the street and realized we couldn't get through thanks to all the debris," Schulte said. "So we got out and started walking. That's when my daughter started to cry because we could see how powerful the storm had been and how much damage there was to these beautiful structures."

Schulte said she realized her business could be a place for people to come to cool off or charge their phones.

"I love Capitol Avenue; and I was so devastated by what I'd seen, I just felt I needed people around me," Schulte said. "We ran power cords outside for charging stations, and we became a meeting place, a place for people to brush themselves off and go on to do what they needed to do."

From there, Schulte said, people started bringing breakfast, lunch and dinner for several days so people in the area could have meals. They also brought many supplies to help in the cleanup effort.

"We were never short of anything," Schulte said. "If people needed something, they could come here. I just made a Facebook post and if somebody had what was needed it showed up. People were desperate to help."

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For the past few winters, Schulte has taken part in an effort to keep people warm in winter, putting coat racks out in front of businesses to allow those less fortunate to pick coats up for free.

"It's never empty, and those racks stay out there 24 hours a day," Schulte said. "It's similar to what happened after the tornado. There was no organized effort. It was a way to enable people to pitch in and help victims. I was shocked at what was able to be pulled off."

In the aftermath of the recent disaster, Schulte and Jefferson City native Nathan Hays took to Facebook in an effort to fill in potential fundraising gaps. The two started a friendly competition on who could raise $10,000 first.

They ended up raising around $42,000 between the two of the them, Schulte said.

She said this was the best use of her time and the space she had available.

"Social media has been good to me, and it's allowed me to keep working for those still needing help," Schulte said. "People are just so loving in this community."