Business surged for those lucky to have power

For the regional business community, Hurricane Sandy was largely a story of the haves and have nots.

Businesses that had electricity experienced a surge in sales, while those that lingered for days without power lost not only thousands of dollars in potential profits but, in the case of restaurants, hundreds of dollars in food that had to be tossed because of potential health risks.

"We lost a lot of stuff," said Pam Kamercia, manager of the Illiano's Restaurant in East Lyme, which closed for five days during and after the storm last week.

Just down the road, however, both Flanders Donut & Bake Shop and The Shack restaurant had lines out the door as they were in a tiny section of town that managed to retain electricity.

"It was just absolutely crazy here," said Eric Silverman, manager of The Shack. "At one point we had a line all the way down to the Japanese restaurant (on the other side of the shopping strip)."

Silverman reported that sales were at least double the usual numbers in the first few days after the storm. Comfort foods, such as meatloaf and macaroni and cheese, were among the most popular items - "anything warm and yummy that would stick to the ribs."

Coffee also was a major item of interest, since the loss of electricity meant few people in town could brew their own hot beverages. The McDonald's restaurant at Flanders Four Corners was rationing coffee last week, offering only small cups and then filling them only three-quarters full because, one employee said, managers were afraid they would otherwise run out.

Tri-Town Foods, which is also in the Flanders section of town and retained power, reported a run on deli items during the storm. The supermarket also helped out regular customers who made large purchases by storing food in their freezers.

Kevin Brouillard, vice president of the local supermarket chain, said the store experienced a 20 percent increase in business in anticipation of the storm but figured Tri-Town didn't see much of an increase afterward, partly because the nearby Stop & Shop retained power and partly because anyone who lost electricity didn't want to purchase perishable items.

"Purchasing habits changed," Brouillard said. "We did a lot of sandwiches, mac and cheese, corned beef, turkey breast."

The popular Coffee's Country Market in Old Lyme, like a lot of businesses with power, helped customers by recharging their cell phones, flashlights and other electronic equipment, not to mention at least one oxygen machine, said owner Ken Coffee.

The market saw a run on sandwiches that threatened to outstrip its supply of bread, but suppliers came through and Coffee's didn't have to turn anyone away. The business did two to three times its normal sales for the first few days after the storm, Coffee said.

For a taste of what the surge in sales meant for one small business, look no further than Kamp Dog restaurant in New London.

Owner Ken Hochstetler reports that he normally goes through 50 to 70 pounds of home fries a day. In the days after the storm, he was using 150 pounds. He normally uses about four pots of coffee during breakfast. On the storm days, it was closer to a dozen.

"It was basically a lot of breakfast stuff all day," Hochstetler said.

Others, however, were not so lucky. Charles Spathakis, owner of the Mystic Market and other food establishments in the area, said he lost power in three of his five locations, including Latitude 41 Restaurant at Mystic Seaport, which resulted in the loss of business and products that had to be discarded.

It would have been worse, however, had the power not been restored before last weekend, when a wedding was scheduled at the Mystic restaurant.

"We're lucky we didn't sustain worse losses," said Spathakis, who allowed that at least he is covered by insurance.

The casinos, which continued to operate during and after the storm, may have lost some gaming revenue last week but reported hotel occupancy rates of near 100 percent.

"During the storm itself, Sunday and Monday (Oct. 28-29), our volumes were impacted adversely," Bobby Soper, Mohegan Sun's president and chief executive officer, said. "But we had a full hotel, and volumes bounced back Tuesday."

Soper said Mohegan Sun derived some benefit from New Jersey's closing of its 12 Atlantic City casinos, many of which have yet to reopen.

"We had a small bump up during the week," he said.

Foxwoods Resort Casino moved guests booked at Two Trees Inn and MGM Grand at Foxwoods into the Grand Pequot and Great Cedar hotels the first two days after Sandy struck. Following the storm, "Foxwoods experienced an upswing in demand for hotel rooms as compared to normal midweek demand," Dale Wolbrink, a Foxwoods spokeswoman, said.

The casino offered rooms at a discounted rate of $99.

The storm cost the Hilton Mystic Hotel some corporate business, Patrick Reece, the general manager, said.

"We lost some corporate classes, seminars, that kind of thing, but on the flip side, many people stayed who had lost power and essentially had no home," he said. "Those people checked out Sunday."

Overall, he said, the impact of the storm was a "wash."

The hotel averaged 90 percent occupancy from Monday, Oct. 29 through Sunday, Reece said, a stretch during which it would otherwise have averaged 86 percent occupancy.

Other types of businesses reported a range of effects, not all of them bad.

Dave Horwaph, manager of the Work Out World health centers in Groton, New London, Waterford and Norwich said clients were champing at the bit to get back to their exercise routines. And while outlets in Groton and Norwich got up and running only a couple days after the storm, restoration of power in Waterford and New London took longer, the site at Ocean Beach Park just reopening Monday.

"People want to get their workouts in, but there was nothing we could do about it," Horwaph said.

Meanwhile, some businesses near the water in Mystic, such as Judi Caracausa of Market Realty, were facing a much more difficult prospect, having to move their workplace back home as their buildings were drying out after extensive flooding.

"My office took a beating," Caracausa reported. "We had a foot of water in the whole building."

Caracausa and several other tenants near Mystic River Park, including Ted Parker of Parker Financial Planning, are now working largely out of their homes.

"It's pretty much business as usual," Parker said.

l.howard@theday.com

b.hallenbeck@theday.com

Others affected by the storm took the time to give themselves and employees a break. Steve Mann, owner of Pot of Green Florist in Stonington, said there really wasn't much he could do for the five to six days his business was without power.

"For the most part, we had a vacation," he said. "It's very rare for us to do that."

CL&P report

Connecticut Light & Power announced Monday that it had met its statewide goal for “substantially complete” restoration after only 1 percent of its customers remained without power around 7:15 p.m. The company said power had been restored to more than 800,000 customers impacted by Hurricane Sandy.

Monday evening, almost 14,000 customers statewide remained in the dark. About 300 customers in southeastern Connecticut remained without power, about 260 of those in Old Lyme.

“We greatly appreciate the dedication of the thousands of utility responders who came to assist in the massive restoration effort,” said Bill Quinlan, CL&P senior vice president of emergency preparedness. “Thanks to the team effort of these workers, the municipalities we serve, and many state agencies, we were able to achieve our goal of restoring power to the vast majority of customers by Monday or Tuesday. But our work won’t be done until every customer is restored.”

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