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August 6, 2009

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Hill area shut down by power outage

Lindsay Rosenberg and her mother stood outside a dark and empty Penzey’s Spices in the late morning of Friday, July 31, slightly confused, but more disappointed.

“I took a day off work to go shopping,” Rosenberg said.

She had a wedding to attend in five hours and was planning to purchase a spicy wedding gift basket, an item available only at Penzey’s. But when she arrived at the shop, she learned from a handwritten sign posted to the door that the store was closed because of a power outage.

“Now, I’ll have to get a gift certificate,” she said.

But it wasn’t just Penzey’s that was closed. On Thursday, July 30, in the late afternoon, many businesses on the 8500 block of Germantown Avenue lost power after an underground transformer stopped working.

At about 11 a.m. Friday morning, at least nine businesses on the block posted signs telling customers the store was closed because of the power outage, including Wachovia Bank, which inconvenienced many customers trying to cash or deposit Friday paychecks. 

According to bank manager Angela Lasota, Wachovia lost power at about 4:30 p.m. Thursday and it didn’t come back on until about 3:30, maybe 3:40 p.m., Friday.

“So, that’s almost 24 hours,” she said. “We had to lock the doors for safety reasons, in addition to security reasons.”

While the bank is equipped with some backup power for security, it was still pitch black, Lasota said.

“Our customers were very wonderful,” she said. “To my knowledge, no one was angry [but] a lot of people were inconvenienced.”

Bruce Freedman, owner of the Chestnut Hill Bootery, said he lost power at about 4:45 p.m. Thursday.

“[The power] was supposed to be on when I came to work today,” he said Friday morning. “But they had some trouble.”

PECO workers told Freedman they were waiting for a part.

“I called [PECO at 9:30] last night and they said it would be done by 11 p.m.,” Tom McCartney, store manager of Omaha Steaks, said Friday. “I got here at 7 [a.m.] and assumed [the power] would be on.”

McCartney was told it would “hopefully” be fixed by dinnertime. He was also told the job was taking so long because PECO workers dug the wrong-size hole for the new transformer.

According to Cathy Engel, manager of communications for PECO, something in the underground transformer “went” that “did require replacement of the entire transformer.”

Engel also said that the original transformer was smaller than the replacement. The hole was not big enough to accommodate the new piece of equipment.

“We needed to do additional work to install it,” she said.

As a result, power wasn’t restored until Friday afternoon, causing businesses to close for most of the day.

“We lost a full day of business, lost customers,” John Ingersoll a co-owner of the Chestnut Hill Cheese Shop, said Monday.

Still, Ingersoll noted that the store was able to make up a “good percentage” of business on Saturday.

Ingersoll, who was not present during the time of the power outage, said the shop put its product on dry ice, so no spoilage occurred.

McCartney also saved his product with dry ice.

“I was really happy that they turned [power] back on at 4:30 [p.m. Friday],” he said. “They initially gave me a later time, so I was happy it came back on early.”

While McCartney was able to open for a couple of hours on Friday, he still estimated a loss of about $2,500 in business.

“[PECO] finished the job and was able to restore service at 2:45 p.m. today,” Engel said Friday afternoon. Yet, owners and managers from The Cheese Shop, Chestnut Hill Bootery, Wachovia and Omaha Steaks said their power came back between 3:30 and 4:30 p.m.

“Five customers were affected since the situation began yesterday at about 4:50 p.m.,” Engel added.

McCartney and other business owners and managers were incredulous. McCartney named about seven or so businesses off the top of his head that were closed.  “That’s more than five right there,” he said.

When questioned about the number of businesses closed because of the power outage, Engel remained steadfast in her answer. Her shift manager told her that while 20 customers were initially experiencing problems, only five customers were affected, and PECO was able to “reroute the power system so that less people were affected.”

Engel defined “customers” with reference to individual service meters. She didn’t know if multiple businesses could share one meter. It depended on the setup, she said.

The Bootery does not share a meter with another business. In fact, there are two meters outside, one for the store and another for the apartment above. Both were without power. The Cheese Shop also has its own meter, and the apartment above was without power as well. Omaha Steaks? It doesn’t share a meter either.

“Well, they fixed it,” Freedman said of PECO’s response to the power outage. “But they should reimburse us. I don’t know anyone that had spoilage, but we lost revenue.

“It was a bad day to have it happen.”


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