'It's hard to process': World-renowned Winchester guitar shop suffers massive flood damage, needs help rebuilding

Posted at 6:25 PM, Oct 12, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-12 18:26:45-04

WINCHESTER, Ky. (LEX 18) — RS Guitarworks is fighting to clean up damage left behind by severe flooding on Oct. 7, but owners said the "scale of the devastation is beyond comprehension."

RS Guitarworks opened in 1996 and has built custom guitars for stars around the world.

25 years of work and investing in growing the company was wiped away in the blink of an eye as flooding submerged the guitar shop in three feet of water before owners had a chance to try to salvage anything.

“You’re wading around the building trying to pick stuff up and throw it up on shelves,” co-owner Roy Bowen described the night of the flood. “But when you have 120 guitars in the building, you only have so many places to put stuff above the water and that’s when you realize there’s no fixing it.”

Bowen said they found guitars and materials floating throughout the building when they walked in. He estimates they lost 80% of their inventory.

“We’re starting to have customers reach out to us going, ‘How’s my guitar?’” Bowen said. “I’m having to tell people, you know, ‘It didn’t make it.’”

They lost some items even money can’t replace.

“I’ve got a guitar in there that’s probably $20,000 that was this customer’s dad’s guitar that he taught him how to play on. You know, what do you say?’” Bowen said.

Staff is working to salvage any and all inventory they can, but most of their machinery was also damaged and will either need heavy repairs or to be replaced entirely.

The building itself also sustained damage. Fans are on to help keep mold from setting into the walls, but the rushing flood was strong enough to rip their air conditioning unit out.

Co-owner Scott Leedy said that will need to be replaced.

“We’re so overwhelmed with all the disaster that it’s hard for us to process,” Leedy said. “We could be hundreds of thousands of dollars in damage right now.”

Staff began cleaning up on Monday after damage assessments were completed. Three days later, they are still working their way through the damage and everything salvageable will be placed in storage so they can get the building thoroughly cleaned.

Leedy said the road to recovery is unclear. They don’t have flood insurance for the building because it does not sit in a flood zone, and the weather-related damage to the city may not be enough to qualify for FEMA to offer assistance.

“How do you get over $350,000 worth of loss with nobody helping?” Bowen said. “If we don’t get help, we won’t make [the 26-year anniversary] so that’s just unfortunately where we’re at.”

“We’re just trying to say our prayers, roll up our sleeves, show up every day and do the best that we can, and hope and pray that somebody will come in and help us out to rebuild because it’s just been so overwhelming,” Leedy said.

A GoFundMe is raising money to help RS Guitarworks reopen its doors, which have been closed indefinitely.

Leedy and Bowen said they’re hopeful people will support them in their time of need so they can rebuild and continue doing the work they love for many more years to come.