Power outages leave businesses scrambling

  • The Jewel Food Store at Lee and Oakton streets in Des Plaines was still without power Thursday.

      The Jewel Food Store at Lee and Oakton streets in Des Plaines was still without power Thursday. Samantha Bowden | Staff Photographer

  • With the electricity back on, Jack Nuelle, left, and Jim Cornelius bring ice cream back to Capannari Ice Cream Thursday afternoon in Mount Prospect. Owners rented emergency storage space in a warehouse, limiting losses to seven containers, compared to 700 in a 2008 outage.

      With the electricity back on, Jack Nuelle, left, and Jim Cornelius bring ice cream back to Capannari Ice Cream Thursday afternoon in Mount Prospect. Owners rented emergency storage space in a warehouse, limiting losses to seven containers, compared to 700 in a 2008 outage. Bill Zars | Staff Photographer

  • Comcast contractors investigate a downed tree Thursday by the entrance of the Oak Brook Heritage Center, 31st Street and Spring Road in Oak Brook.

      Comcast contractors investigate a downed tree Thursday by the entrance of the Oak Brook Heritage Center, 31st Street and Spring Road in Oak Brook. Daniel white | Staff Photographer

  • Power still was out Thursday along 31st Street in Oak Brook, where a tree was down in front of the Oak Brook Heritage Center.

      Power still was out Thursday along 31st Street in Oak Brook, where a tree was down in front of the Oak Brook Heritage Center. Daniel white | Staff Photographer

  • Two days after the storm, the Jewel Food Store at Lee and Oakton streets in Des Plaines was still without power.

      Two days after the storm, the Jewel Food Store at Lee and Oakton streets in Des Plaines was still without power. Samantha Bowden | Staff Photographer

  • Tornado paths

    Graphic: Tornado paths (click image to open)

 
By Eileen O. Daday and Jeff Engelhardt
Updated 6/23/2011 10:50 PM

Continuing power problems in areas hard-hit by Tuesday night's wind storm hammered local businesses for a second day Thursday.

Jewel Food Stores, for example, reported that 26 stores initially lost power and three of them -- in Des Plaines, Downers Grove and Niles -- were still without electricity Thursday while the Park Ridge store was operating on a generator. Jewel brought in refrigeration trailers to save food at the closed stores, but some items had to be dumped, spokeswoman Karen May said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"The last time we had this kind of emergency was with the blizzard," she said, adding that by late afternoon, all but the Des Plaines Jewel, 1500 S. Lee St., had power.

Thursday night about 50,000 ComEd customers, mostly in the West and North suburbs, were without power out of 440,000 customers that initially suffered outages. ComEd expected to have all power restored by midnight Friday, a spokeswoman said.

Food businesses were particularly vulnerable to the effects of the power outages.

Rise N Dine Pancake Cafe in Wheeling lost power at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday and did not have any power again until Thursday morning. The result was a complete loss of all the food the restaurant had stored.

"We lost everything," said Nick Papageorgiou, one of the owners, citing FDA guidelines that give a 24-hour window for restaurants to salvage food after losing power. Meeting payroll this month will be a challenge, he said. "It's going to take a good six months to recover from this (financially)," he said.

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And when it comes to the moving business, it's never good to come to a halt.

But that is exactly what happened to Des Plaines-based Two Men and Truck, which with no phones, computers or databases accessible throughout the entire day Wednesday, scrambled just to stay in contact with existing customers and had little hope of scheduling any new moves.

Alicia Sorber, marketing manager, said the power outage hit the company's wallet hard right in the middle of the busiest season. The business schedules anywhere from 25 moves on a slower day to 40 on a busy day. There was only one move scheduled manually on Wednesday.

"It goes to show you how much we really rely on technology for day-to-day things," Sorber said.

The power problems were widespread. Several stores in the Shops of Oak Brook on 22nd Street -- including Nordstrom Rack -- were closed Wednesday. Power was restored there late in the day, but it remained off much of Thursday at hundreds of residences in the community, and at the village hall, police department and public works department.

A backup generator powered emergency communications, and village employees were able to function with laptop computers or use computers in the emergency center. Power was expected to be on throughout the town by midnight Thursday, Blaine Wing, assistant village manager, said.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

At the Wheaton Sport Center, however, full power wasn't expected back until noon Friday, according to a memo issued to its clients.

Power problems gave some business operators a chance to show their ingenuity.

At Capannari Ice Cream in Mount Prospect, owners quickly leased a nearby warehouse to keep their homemade ice cream fresh.

"It took six guys to transport all of the ice cream over to the warehouse," said Jim Cornelius, one of the managers.

With power back on Thursday, staff members spent the day cleaning equipment and retrieving ice cream for a 5:30 p.m. reopening.

"We're happy it wasn't worse," Cornelius added. "We put a notice on our door telling customers we'd be out for three days, and it turned out to be only a day and a half."

At House of Szechwan in Des Plaines, in order to preserve their refrigerated food, they transported it to their second location in Mount Prospect, which had not lost power, said Mary Ip, one of the owners. When power was restored later Wednesday, "we were swamped … the rest of the day, since everyone else had lost their power. We also made a lot of deliveries, so we made out pretty well."

And the maxim that one person's problem is another's opportunity proved true for stores like The

Home Depot on East Kensington Road in Mount Prospect.

Brian Swim, store manager, said the store used its generator to stay open, extended its store hours until 2 a.m. on Wednesday and shipped in truckloads of generators from nine different branches.

"Somehow, someway we were determined to get a generator to anyone who came in asking for one," Swim said. "We were prepared to stay open 24 hours."

The storm also prompted warnings, though, from local police about less than reputable businesses that try to take advantage of people when they are most vulnerable.

Des Plaines Police Chief Jim Prandini pointed out that home repair fraud scams are prevalent in the aftermath of severe storm damage. And elderly residents are often targeted by thieves posing as workers for a utility company. Resident should call 911 to report suspicious activity, he said.

In most cases, though, the storm brought out the best in people.

Dawn Fletcher Collins, director of the Mount Prospect Chamber of Commerce, said she was delighted with how the businesses and the people in the community responded.

"Our community shops and spends money here and our businesses take that very seriously," she said. "There were good attitudes all around. I'm not surprised at all with the commitment."

• Daily Herald staff writers Anna Madrzyk and Elisabeth Mistretta contributed to this report.