Storm slams area merchants

Alisha Tarnowicz, co-owner of Spill The Beans coffee shop in Prospect, had to throw away thousands of dollars worth of food after last week’s snowstorm took out electricity in the store for four days. - LARAINE WESCHLER

The Nor’easter that slammed the state Oct. 29 was boom or bust for local businesses. Those without power suffered when they shuttered their doors, while others were overwhelmed with customers seeking shelter and sustenance.

Businesses in the food industry were hit hard when outages forced them to toss thousands of dollars worth of food.

In Prospect, Oliver’s Supermarket lost power from Oct. 30 to the afternoon of Nov. 1. The store used a small generator to run registers and a few lights. Customers kept coming for non-perishable items, but the generator wasn’t enough to keep the refrigerators and freezers going.

Oliver’s threw away $100,000 worth of perishable items, according to the store’s co-owner Len Noble.

Although insurance will cover most of that wholesale cost, he won’t make up the lost profits, he said.

Elsa Peat, an Oliver’s customer since 1964, said she shopped at the store the day before the storm, but couldn’t get back the next few days because roads were blocked.

“This is a lovely store. … If I need extra care, they’re always here for me,” Peat said.

Noble said he’s not going to be caught out in the dark again. Although the store didn’t loose power during Tropical Storm Irene this summer, Noble said he was planning to order a generator to power the whole store ahead of the winter. Unfortunately, last week’s storm hit a bit early.

“I just think the severe winter last year, the hurricane, and this snow storm might be an indication of what we might be in store for in the future,” Noble said.

At the Beacon Falls Market, owner Charlie Lee said he had to throw out everything before inspectors from the Naugatuck Valley Health District would let him open up last Thursday morning. The market lost $13,000 worth of groceries. Lee said he hopes to get $10,000 of that back from his insurance company.

Lee’s thinking about getting a generator, but one big enough to power the whole store will be expensive, he said. This was the first time in 23 years the store has lost power, Lee said.

At Hometown Pizza just down the street from Oliver’s, manager Jeff Pacuku said he lost $7,000 worth of food when his store lost power for two days. When the store opened up again, Pacuku had twice as many customers as usual, but not enough to make up for the loss, he said.

Next door, Spill The Beans, a coffee shop, took as much food as they could to the Prospect town garage when they realized the weren’t going to have power, according to co-owner Alisha Tarnowicz.

Without any light, they were forced to stay home for the four days. Their power was out for the first time since Tarnowicz and her mother bought the business last December.

Spill The Beans stayed open, at least for the morning rush of town employees looking for breakfast, through all the snow storms last winter and had a line going out the door during Tropical Storm Irene, according to Tarnowicz.

When Spill The Beans employees got back on Wednesday, they had to throw out everything in their freezer and spend the whole day making baked goods and replenishing supplies. Tarnowicz said she wished she could have opened to serve coffee, but she didn’t even have milk.

Since they reopened, the place has been hopping with a lot of new customers and business orders, Tarnowicz said.

“If we retain them, it will be worth it,” she said.

Elsa Peat, an Oliver’s customer since 1964, shops at the Prospect grocery Monday after power was restored. The store had to ditch $100,000 worth of perishables when power went out for three days last week. -LARAINE WESCHLER

Besides a few thousand dollars worth of groceries, Tarnowicz said she also lost out on four days of business.

“In a small place, a few thousand is a lot,” she said.

Tarnowicz said she was dealing with her insurance company earlier this week, logging everything she lost, procuring receipts, and taking pictures.

“It’s a very tedious process just added to our everyday stuff,” she said.

For some businesses that were only closed a few days the financial balance sheet was a wash.

The Sunco gas station on Route 69 lost electricity for two days. Even when it opened back up, it was slow for the first day, according to Sunco manager Tyler Smith.

“Most people didn’t know we were open,” Smith said.

However, the next two days were busy as customers came from other towns to fill up at one of the few stations with power.

“We pretty much made all our money back those two busy days from the days we were closed,” Smith said.

The Shell gas station down the street wasn’t so lucky.

The station lost power for four days, plus all the ice cream, milk, and other perishable products in its convenience store. Cashier Ali Vahora said he looked for a generator at Home Depot, but they didn’t have one big enough to power the station. Besides, with the store’s owner in India, he didn’t have the authority to make a big purchase.

Vahora estimated the store lost about $4,000 in profits from an average of 1,700 gallons of gas and $2,500 worth of groceries the station usually sells per day.

Some businesses made the best of the historic snow storm.

“We were given lemons and we made lemon martinis,” said Jennifer Borruso, owner of Slainte, a bar on New Haven Road in Naugatuck.

With a small generator, Borruso had to make a choice of what to run. She chose the TV and freezers. The bar was lit by candlelight and they only served fried food.

She said the bar was “slam-packed” Oct. 30 as customers crammed in to watch the New York Giant’s game. On Monday, Borruso said she handed out candy to children who were missing out on Halloween.

“It was all just fun,” she said.

Cher Brooks, a Prospect firefighter and a regular at the bar, said she saw a lot of new faces at the bar when the power was out. She said the newcomers loved the good food and hospitality.

“It was incredible,” Brooks said.

Other businesses found ways to help out as thousands across Connecticut were without power.

The Old Corner Café, a bar in Naugatuck, hosted a Pasta Supper organized by borough Tax Collector Jim Goggin for residents without power last Wednesday night.

Ann Ferreira, wife of the bar’s owner, said they served about 200 meals that night.

“We were just happy to be able to do it,” she said.

Ferreira said she saw an uptick in business the rest of the week as the bar kept the power so many others had lost.

For some businesses that didn’t loose power, the days following the snowstorm were too busy.

Kyi Soe, owner of Wen’s Asion Fusion in Naugatuck, said his business more than doubled and he ran out of some food. He couldn’t deliver because his employees were tied up at the restaurant. Following the storm, Soe said more customers wanted Chinese food, which is warmer and more filling than the sushi the restaurant also serves.

Even though he got lucky this time, Soe said he wants to be more prepared for the next storm. He lost power for three days after Tropical Storm Irene and had to throw out all his food.

“When the snow started and the lights started blinking, I said, ‘No, no, not again,’” Soe said.

He said he plans to buy a generator before the next storm and that Connecticut Light and Power will be more prepared next time.

The surge of customers was even more dramatic for the gas stations that were open in the region.

“Basically, it was like a mad house,” said Ashley Jonelis, a cashier at the Cumberland Farms gas station in Naugatuck.

She said the station had to get four shipments of gas in one day following the storm.

At a few points when the gas was being refilled, customers had to wait up to 30 minutes and cashiers had to direct traffic in the parking lot, Jonelis said. She said the convenience store also ran out of milk and coffee.

“It didn’t really stop until Thursday (Nov. 3),” Jonelis said. “It wasn’t too bad. It was just hectic,” she said.