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10 years later: Cullman flower shop using old spot for new community purpose

Updated: Apr. 27, 2021 at 12:52 PM CDT
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CULLMAN, Ala. (WAFF) - April 27 will always be a day of remembrance in Cullman. In 2011, an EF-4 tornado came through, demolishing buildings and killing one person.

10 years later, the town has rebuilt and the only way you can tell anything ever happened is a few empty lots scattered in the downtown.

The empty lot on the corner of 2nd Ave. and 5th St. belongs to Annette King-McHan, the owner of Cullman Florist. Cullman Florist has been in business in downtown Cullman since 1965, and used to sit on King-McHan’s empty corner lot until April 27, 2011.

On that day, the tornado tore its way through downtown Cullman, leaving buildings in ruins behind it, including Cullman Florist.

The aftermath of an EF-4 tornado tearing through downtown Cullman
The aftermath of an EF-4 tornado tearing through downtown Cullman(Annette King-McHan)

“I could see the tornado, and of course it was taking this downtown area, and the florist,” King-McHan said.

“We had two employees inside when it was hit,” she said.

King-McHan said, luckily, both of her employees inside survived, but the flower shop was in ruins.

“It was a total loss,” she said.

In the days following, she said the entire community began to help clean up.

“We were already a close community anyway, but this was special,” she said. “This was people walking down the road with a chainsaw in their hand and saying, ‘Where do we need to go?’ They were from Birmingham, Huntsville, all over.”

Other local businesses and churches made sure everyone was fed.

Her neighbors at other downtown businesses stepped up to help her, as well.

“These restaurant owners were coming to get us,” King-McHan said.

King-Mchan said the tragedy of April 27, 2011 brought this community together to celebrate survival, but also mourn the life lost. She said the anniversary brings mixed emotions.

“All those pictures come up on your memories on Facebook, but at the same time, you see that friend that came to stand by you,” she said.

Now she sees how the community has grown in the last decade and sees the same spirit passed on to the next generation.

”I have children from 35 down to 30 and it’s their friends who are starting businesses here in town,” King-McHan said. “And that means they’re sticking around for a while and I love that. I think a lot of it had to do with the community growth, community spirit when it all went down.”

King-McHan said she found a new shop quickly and operated there for a few years. Three years ago she was able to move Cullman Florist just a block from where the old building used to stand.

King-McHan has held onto the old lot, despite not rebuilding on it. She said she’s had several offers to sell it over the years, but the lot is special to her and her family.

“It was my mothers, you know?”

She said maybe someday they’ll do something new with the land.

“Lots are hard to find here in downtown Cullman,” King McHan said. “I have three daughters, two of which who have stayed here in Cullman, and who knows what we may want to do with that lot in the future.”

But, when the pandemic first started and restrictions were created to prevent the spread of COVID-19, King-McHan saw the restaurants of downtown Cullman, some of the same that helped her after the flower shop was destroyed, struggling.

She said a bright idea came to her husband. He suggested they partner with some local friends who own Buettner Brothers Lumber Co, and put picnic tables on the plot of land.

“We have several restaurants in the area that are nice, locally owned downtown restaurants and it just gives them a place to go and eat,” King-McHan said.

So, while indoor dining wasn’t allowed, downtown Cullman restaurant owners could direct their customers to the picnic tables on the corner of 5th St. and 2nd Ave. for a place to sit down and eat.

“They appreciated that they could tell someone to take it over and eat it,” she said.

King McHan said she’s happy to see a place marked by tragedy help her friends and neighbors during a difficult time.

“It just seemed to be a natural choice, we know a lot of local business owners here and we know they struggled through the tornado, they struggled through the pandemic,” she said. “We just have an awesome community.”

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