Blackout hurts Island businesses

Christina Hendelman/Reader Photo Center, Islander Christina Hendelman snapped this photo of her family coping with the power outage on Dec. 16, as her children and their friends had a snack. -
Christina Hendelman/Reader Photo Center, Islander Christina Hendelman snapped this photo of her family coping with the power outage on Dec. 16, as her children and their friends had a snack.
— image credit:

North end businesses on the Island saw their busiest shopping days grind to an abrupt halt with the storm that left the community without electricity for days.

Though they were among the first to regain power, the businesses didn’t see many customers through the days after the storm. They said people just weren’t interested in shopping, estimating thousands of dollars in losses from the storm.

All the Best Pet Care stayed open through the power outage. Manager Michelle Laraux said the store had just six customers through the two days it was open without electricity.

“First we thought people hadn’t planned for it, so they might need pet food,” Laraux said. “And we thought it might be a little busier than that.”

The store probably missed out on thousands of dollars in sales, Laraux said, and also lost about $3,000 worth of frozen foods (raw food, bones) with the power outage. The food was insured, but the store can’t recover the lost sales so easily.

Last week at Tatters, employees were preparing for their annual sale, which was delayed due to the storm.

“Up until that point (the power outage) we had our busiest week and a half ever,” said manager Milana Norbut. “Then that happened. It slowed us down. It definitely slowed us down... It picked up, but not to the extent it was.”

Mercer Island Nutrition owner Jenny Lau said she lost only some vegan mayonnaise due to lack of refrigeration. But she missed out on business.

“About $3,000, because even though I got my power back on Monday, nobody came in,” she said. “Knowing there was no power, I kept thinking about all the sales I was losing.”

Though she doesn’t see a huge increase in sales around the holiday season, she missed out on regular customers, she said.

At Cascade Frames, employees gathered supplies and took them to the West Seattle store to avoid a huge backlog of orders, according to framer Jessica Silks.

“This is obviously a really busy time of year, so we had tons of orders,” she said. “That threw a wrench in the works.”

She said manager Kathleen Lopez tried to get work done by candlelight during the first day of the power outage, but realized it was a futile effort.

Business did not pick up until most of the Island had its power back, Silks said.

“Once everybody got power back, it was like a tidal wave,” she said.

The storm also affected the store’s customer service, Silks said, because they couldn’t go to their usual lengths to help customers get orders completed by Christmas due to their backlog.

“Usually we like to help everybody, if you come in, we can find a solution. This is the first year we couldn’t go above and beyond,” she said.

At Studio 904, owner Kay Hirai said the salon had $8,000 worth of appointments booked during the three days it closed due to the power outage. The salon is typically busiest over the weekend before Christmas, and had even planned to be open on Sunday, a day it is typically closed. She said she will not be able to recover those losses.

“We had $8,000 worth of business booked on those days, so that’s a pretty good chunk,” she said. “And you still have to make payroll and stuff as though those things never happened. For a small business, particularly a service business, it’s really tough. You can never make up those hours again. It’s like when a plane takes off with empty seats. You can never recoup that again. That’s the situation for us.”

Baristas at R and R Espresso said they were most upset about their lost wages, since they couldn’t work during the power outage. They had to throw out lots of dairy products, from milk to whipped cream.

“Having to return presents to pay your bills is not a good thing,” said barista Heather Johnson.

With power out for over four days down at the South end shopping center the business took some tough losses at a critical time. Power came back on Tuesday afternoon and most food services opened up that evening.

At the family-owned Georgio’s Subs, where Steven Chiang and Huei Sung work, they said they had to throw away all their food because of the power outage, including about $1,000 worth of meat.

“The dumpster was full of garbage,” Sung said.

Sung estimated that the family’s total loss of sales during that time was somewhere between $3,000-$3,500.

Across the parking lot, at El Sombrero Mexican Restaurant, the owner Daniel Rodriguez said they were closed four days, finally opening up Tuesday for dinner. He had two employees quit to find other jobs while the power was out. He is in the process of talking with his insurance agent to possibly recover some losses.

Rodriguez estimates the restaurant lost about $10,000 in sales for the entire outage and at least $4,000 of that was discarded food.

“My insurance guy right now is saying that they may be able to pay for the (spoiled) food but not the loss of sales,” Rodriguez said.

“Right now, I’m thinking about getting a generator,” he said.

Back across the parking lot, the owner of Sahara’s Pizza, John Barich, said the four days of no power cost him about $1,000 worth of food. Plus, Friday and Saturday are his busiest days of the week and he lost that business since the outage occurred over the weekend.

“That took a big chunk out of the monthly sales,” Barich said. “This is a busy time of year, too. People would have wanted pizza for sure.”

Barich is also talking with his insurance company about recovering losses.

“It definitely affected all these little businesses that are family owned or independently owned,” Barich said of his neighbors. “It’s tough.”

After power was restored at the shopping center, some Sahara deliveries went out to some “dark houses,” or neighborhoods in the South end still without power. Barich said there might have been a few cases where a driver had to find another route to access a blocked neighborhood, but there were no significant problems delivering.

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