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Kindness of Texas Business Owner Keeps Community Warm Amid Blackouts

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For the Rios family and hundreds of other people, shelter from the winter storm that has left much of Houston without power or heat came from an unusual place: a furniture store.

Sitting at one of the tables on display inside Gallery Furniture’s cavernous showroom, Tina Rios, 32, explained how she “started stressing really, really hard” after her suburban Houston mobile home lost power at around 4:30 a.m. on Feb. 15 and she, her husband, Eric Bennis, and their three children were soon able to see their breath inside.

After spending one frigid night there, they realized they needed to find somewhere warm to wait out the blackout.

“They’re Texas babies,” Bennis, a 31-year-old tow truck driver, said of his children, ages 3, 9 and 10. “This is the first time they’ve seen white on the ground.”

They heard Gallery Furniture’s owner, Jim McIngvale, had opened his main store in north Houston as a shelter, so they made the hourlong drive from Channelview.

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“We came in and they welcomed us with open arms,” an emotional Rios said.

As utility crews raced Wednesday to restore power to nearly 3.4 million residents in Texas and other parts of the U.S. while another blast of ice and snow threatened to cause more chaos in places that aren’t used to such weather, McIngvale, known as “Mattress Mack,” said he was just doing his part to help.

“We all have a responsibility for the well-being of the community and we think this is our responsibility,” said McIngvale, who later walked around the store greeting people and offering them doughnuts.

McIngvale previously opened the store, which has a generator that can power the building for several days, as a shelter after flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 inundated much of Houston.

People sat around dining room tables in the showroom on Wednesday and ate bags of chips and other snacks taken from small metal buckets set up near the entrance.

Kids could be heard yelling and laughing at a playground outside. Those still without power planned to stay another night on one of the store’s $3,000 couches or $5,000 beds.

On Tuesday, more than 300 people spent the night, including Stephanie Anderson, 29, and her 8-year-old son, Jaden.

Their home lost power on Feb. 15, and after a cold night with no water, Anderson said they came to Gallery Furniture after finding out about it on Facebook.

“I’m just thankful that we’re here and we’re warm. If we didn’t come here, I’m afraid we would still be at home,” she said.

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McIngvale said he’d keep his store open as a shelter for as long as necessary.

“We’ve been through tougher fights than this. We’ll get through this,” McIngvale said.


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