By Kevin McClintock
AT&T’s retail store on Thursday became the latest Joplin business to reopen since the 2011 tornado.
The tornado ripped apart the old store at 1702 South Range Line Road, killing 34-year-old Sharyl Nelson and injuring several others, and forcing company officials to move to a temporary location at 2336 Range Line.
The store's old address “is a very special location,” said Mike Haynes, regional director of external affairs for AT&T. “It's a part of the rebuilding zone and (a part) of the renewal that's happening all across town.”
“We're just excited to be home,” added AT&T store manager Keith Davis. The business has 30 employees, according to AT&T officials.
Rebuilding the 3,800-square-foot store, replacing and expanding the company's wireless network and building a new cellular tower on the northwest side of the city are part of $2.1 billion the company has invested within the state of Missouri since 2009, Haynes said.
To help Joplin rebuild, AT&T has agreed to donate $25 from each new activation or phone upgrade between now and Sunday to the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce's Business Stabilization revolving loan fund.
“We wanted to do something special,” Haynes said, “that we don't do normally with a store opening like this.”
Tonya Sprenkle, vice president of the Joplin Area Chamber of Commerce, said the donations will help expand the number of low-interest, small-business loans available for companies.
The loans, Sprenkle added, “help (local Joplin businesses) to get back on their feet.”
“We've experienced the tornado, we went through the tornado, we cried through the tornado, and now we're ready to move on from the tornado,” Joplin Mayor Melodee Colbert-Kean said at the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
The focus now, she said, is now on “growing Joplin.”
The AT&T store at 1702 South Range Line Road unveiled a texting-while-driving simulator, which is a part of the company's “It Can Wait” campaign that educates the public about the dangers of texting and driving. It will be there through Saturday.
Texting while driving, “isn't just a teen-ager thing, it's an adult thing,” said Mike Haynes, regional director of external affairs for AT&T. “Numbers show that it's getting bad among adults. We're trying to make people pledge not to text and drive. That's very important to us.”