Houston furniture store offers shelter after winter storm

Full Screen
1 / 12

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

Tina Rios, right, and her husband, Eric Bennis, talk about losing power at their home while sitting inside a Gallery Furniture store which opened as a shelter Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, in Houston. Millions in Texas still had no power after a historic snowfall and single-digit temperatures created a surge of demand for electricity to warm up homes unaccustomed to such extreme lows, buckling the state's power grid and causing widespread blackouts. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

HOUSTON – For Tina Rios, her 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 many tables on display Wednesday inside Gallery Furniture's cavernous showroom, 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 Monday 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, not so much for the parents, who grew up in New Jersey and are used to cold, but for the children, ages 3, 9 and 10.

“They’re Texas babies,” said Bennis, a 31-year-old tow truck driver. “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.

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

As utility crews raced Wednesday to restore power to nearly 3.4 million customers 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 Houston has been good to his business and his employees and that 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 and kolaches — Czech pastries that are popular in parts of Texas.

McIngvale previously opened the store, which has a generator that can power the location for several days, as a shelter after flooding from Hurricane Harvey in 2017 inundated much of Houston. He has also provided meals for people during the coronavirus pandemic.