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Outage Hits Local Businesses

Humboldt businesses take stock of losses from county-wide power outage

Local businesses scrambled to recover from two days of frantic sales and attempts at saving perishable foods on Oct. 10.

North Coast Co-Op General Manager Melanie Bettenhausen said she had been up for most of the previous 36 hours.

When the Co-Op learned of the outages, Bettenhausen said they had to choose between trying to store and preserve perishables, or trying to sell them off as quickly as possible.

They chose the latter and marked down all perishables at 50% off.

“And that resulted in madness in our stores,” Bettenhausen said.

Bettenhausen said more customers visited the Co-Op than on even their busiest days. Bettenhausen thanked the community for coming and helping salvage some of their losses. Nevertheless, their losses were significant.

“My best guess is somewhere between $25,000 and $30,000, because we were able to mark down and sell some products,” Bettenhausen said.

On Oct. 10 the Co-Op was documenting tens of thousands of dollars of perishable items that had to be thrown away, as temperatures rose outside of legal limits.

Bettenhausen estimated a dozen shopping carts full of items were tossed just from the dairy section at their Eureka store.

North Coast General Manager estimates losses between $25,000 and $30,000. | Photo by James Wilde

Conrad Coelho, the store manager of Murphy’s Market in Westwood, shared similar experiences.

“It was very busy,” Coelho said. “The busiest we’ve ever been since we opened in 2010.”

Coelho said lines inside stores stretched down aisles on Wednesday as customers waited 30 to 40 minutes to check out. While Coelho couldn’t give a number on their sales, he predicted significant losses from the frozen section.

Wildberries Marketplace President and owner Phil Ricord said the store experienced a rush of customers before the outage.

“Around 5 p.m. on Tuesday we got slammed big-time with customers buying canned foods and candles and stuff like that,” Ricord said.

Due to aging electrical infrastructure, Wildberries does not have a backup generator, and did not open on Wednesday. Instead, employees stored perishables in cold boxes, where they were able to maintain cold enough temperatures to save most of their foods.

Ricord did say that some produce was lost, and the sales lost from the Oct. 9 closure would be significant.

“We probably lost about $40,000 in sales,” Ricord said.

Gas stations also saw rushes the night of Oct. 8, with several gas stations running out of gas by the next day.

Any stores with ice quickly sold out as residents tried to keep their perishables cool. When local radio station KHUM broadcast that Murphy’s Markets in Westwood and Sunny Brae had received shipments of ice, customers rushed the stores, creating lines outside at the ice chests.

Arcata City Manager Karen Diemer echoed the statements by local businesses. Diemer praised “heroic efforts” by community members to purchase and salvage perishable foods, but did acknowledge the overall loss.

“I think we had a real economic loss in our restaurant and retail establishments throughout the city,” Diemer said over the phone. “But at this point it’s too early to really have any totals or numbers.”

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