POR Dawn O’Grady March 22, 2009

From Katrina and disaster to Fruita and doohickeys

AS WITH MANY people who have had to rebuild their lives following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Dawn O’Grady and her family found that fresh start in Fruita. O’Grady, who was once a real estate agent, now owns and operates Doohickeys & Dinosaurs toy store.

Dawn O’Grady is rebuilding her life one colorful block, toy doll and piggy bank at a time.

O’Grady was a successful real estate agent in New Orleans. She had been married to her husband Corrie Thomas for about a year when they had to evacuate to Austin, Texas, during Hurricane Katrina.

That’s when O’Grady’s life took an unexpected turn.

Two weeks later she returned to an unrecognizable city.

Luckily, her home was built on high ground in Harahan, La., 2 miles from downtown New Orleans. She didn’t lose her belongings and her primary residence wasn’t damaged.

But she did lose her career — that wasn’t supposed to happen.

The homes she previously sold were damaged beyond repair. The city was wet and dirty. Insurance agents were in higher demand than real estate agents.

More importantly, the people who once had been friendly and eclectic were now hostile and angry.

“One of the things that Katrina did to everyone was that we lost parts of ourselves,” O’Grady said. “You lost your well-being.”

Her investments turned into liabilities — that wasn’t supposed to happen.

O’Grady owned two investment properties in Marigny, La., in an up-and-coming area of the city. Extensive renovations to the properties had been completed and then ruined.

The city was crime-ridden and unsafe.

“It was very emotional. It changed everyone’s sense of security and I no longer felt safe,” O’Grady said.

On top of it all, O’Grady was feeling ill. She realized she was pregnant — that wasn’t supposed to happen either.

“I wasn’t supposed to be able to have kids because of appendicitis I had,” O’Grady said. “I had my little miracle baby, Garrett.”

Thomas had to leave the city to find work. He worked in Evanston, Wyo. After a year, his son hardly recognized him.

“I got tired of missing him and I wanted my family to be together,” O’Grady said.

She researched jobs and towns online looking for a perfect place for her family to live, together.

What she found was beyond what she expected. She found Fruita.

Thomas got a job in safety for Conoco. It paid less money. O’Grady would no longer practice real estate, but their new family would be together.

O’Grady doesn’t regret leaving her real estate career and doesn’t intend to do it again.

“In order to be successful in real estate you have to spend 18 hours a day doing it. Now I have other responsibilities.”

O’Grady realized that shopping choices were limited in the Grand Valley. She recalls driving around looking for the Toys-R-Us store.

She tried buying toys for Garrett online, but “some of those places didn’t look like a place I wanted to put my credit card.”

She decided that a quality toy store was just what parents in Fruita needed and that she would open it. That’s not something she ever expected to be doing.

At Christmas, O’Grady had enough inventory to fill a small booth at the Christmas fair. In just two months, her inventory fills a new store, Doohickeys and Dinosaurs, located downtown on Aspen Avenue, in the previously named Fruita Brewery building.

She sells quality wooden toys and puzzles by Melissa and Doug, piggy banks that encourage saving and giving, wooden tool sets, giant stuffed dinosaurs, and many games.

She also sells her merchandise at http://www.animaloos.com. She’s created a Facebook page for those wanting to know more about her business and who want to receive coupons.

“I’d really love as much input from the community and ideas about what they want this store to become,” O’Grady said.

She plans on expanding her merchandise soon to include teaching supplies, souvenirs and child-sized Fruita T-shirts.

“I really want to stay here,” O’Grady said, “ I just fell in love with the people in Fruita.”

Perhaps it was meant to be after all.


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