Congressman Tom Graves, R-Georgia, on Monday conducted a town hall-style meeting at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School and toured some Ringgold businesses damaged by April's tornado that have recently reopened.
More than 100 attended the hour-long meeting, a public forum that allowed the congressman representing Georgia's 9th District to talk about his legislative positions as well as hear comments and field questions from constituents.
From Fort Oglethorpe, which was scarcely touched by the tornado, Graves visited Ringgold on what was termed a "Back In Business" tour hosted by the Catoosa County Chamber of Commerce, so named because of a speech the congressman made in mid-July.
"Ringgold is on the mend and ready to share some of that Southern hospitality it's known so well for," Graves told members of the U.S. House of Representatives in a speech that aired on CSPAN and that Congressman Graves uploaded to YouTube on July 19.
Graves encouraged representatives passing by on Interstate 75 to stop at Exit 348 for "gas, a bite to eat, or an overnight stay.
"Enjoy the shops, the sites and the historic downtown and know that you are playing a part in helping this great and resilient community rebuild," he said.
Monday's "open for business" tour of the town had the congressman meeting face-to-face with some of the shop owners who felt and continue to feel fallout from that storm.
At Aunt Effie's Restaurant on Alabama Highway, where the dry cleaners business next door has yet to reopen, Graves spoke with restauranteur Jim Cox and commended his fortitude in reopening as quickly as possible.
"Thank you for the story being told here, that Ringgold is back!" Graves said to Cox and Ringgold Mayor Joe Barger. "It is amazing to see the rebound, to see neighbors taking care of neighbors."
Harold Cochran, co-owner with his son of the 50-year-old Conchran's Furniture Store, said "we've gotten Phase I of rebuilding complete, but that's only about 20 percent." Even so, the Cochrans and the Congressman Graves walked through the completed - and open - rebuilt store as well as areas where drywall and dropped ceilings have yet to be installed.
"The true story is the resiliency of the community," Graves said.
Moving further downtown, the congressman visited Price Pharmacy, one of the oldest businesses in the area, and Uniktings!, one that has been in business for about 4 1/2 years.
"My business is less today than it was when I opened," Cindie Robinson, owner of the gift and home decor shop, said. "People call to ask, 'Is the town open, are you open?' and some call to say 'I'm afraid to come see what happened, I want to remember Ringgold like it was.'"
Robinson said that not only do such attitudes and uncertainties hurt merchants now, particularly during recessionary times, but could cripple attempts to keep Ringgold a viable and vibrant place.
"I could have moved, but this is where my heart is," she said, adding, "If you shop out of town, you lose your town."
Representative Graves thanked Robinson for "coming in every day and opening your doors."