From the pages of
Pinedale Roundup
Volume 105, Number 2 - January 10, 2008
brought to you online by Pinedale Online

Most businesses forced to shut down

by Alecia Warren

Some local businesses made frantic efforts to stay open during the intermittent hours of power during the town’s rotating outages on Thursday. Many shops that found they lost all necessary appliances and electronics were forced to close.

Still other business owners found that power or not, they had no choice but to stay open.

So found Log Cabin Motel owners Sophia and Forest Wakefield, even though 10 of their 12 log cabin rooms lost heat and electricity for most of the day.

“If you run a business where you can’t just close down and leave, you have to stay open through something like this and be impeccable in customer service,” Sophia said.

“Of course you have some challenges during outages as a service provider, no question about that, many businesses in town have that.”

When the power failed on Thursday morning, even the rotating outages weren’t enough to keep the motel rooms at a comfortable temperature, she said.

“I was most worried about tenants with families, who are here all day,” she said. Two of such tenants — one couple living in Pinedale while finishing a work contract on the library extension, the other a woman visiting her husband in the oil field — had an infant to keep warm.

Sophia moved the families for the day to the only two cabins with radiators, and supplied them with extra blankets and down comforters.

“They were all huddling in bed under the comforters, trying not to freeze,” Sophia said on Thursday after peeking her head inside the tenants’ rooms to check on them. “I did all I could.”

As the outages continued after sunset, Sophia was left scrambling to prepare rooms for customers checking in that night. When the lights flickered and plunged her into pitch black, she had only one flashlight to guide her way, she said.

Ridley's General Store, formerly Faler’s, didn’t have the option to lock its doors, either, because it serves as the only grocery store in town where locals can purchase nonperishable foods, flashlights, candles, gas lamps and other necessities customers crowded to seize off the shelves.

Store employees hauled two generators outside the store to power the cash registers, with carpets placed across the power cords to prevent customers from tripping. Once daylight faded, cashiers squinted at checks and receipts under the dim light of Coleman gas lamps placed strategically around the store. Employees helped customers peruse the shelves by holding up flashlights.

“It’s a learning experience every time you go through a blackout — we would’ve liked to have done better, but we did the best we could,” said store manager Val Ercanbrack.

Hopefully the store will buy a bigger generator before another outage occurs, Ercanbrack said, so the staff can operate more cash registers and turn some lights on.

“It’s very important (that Ridley’s always stays open),” Ercanbrack said. “People depend on us every day, and though our power might be out, outlying areas may not be, so if people make a trip to shop with us, we don’t want to disappoint them.”

Obo’s Market and Deli stayed open throughout the day, as well. Although customers weren’t able to pump gas and had to hunt through the shelves by the light of gas lamps, the backup battery on the cash register allowed people to purchase food, deli items and pizza.

“It was pretty frustrating for employees, because we were trying to cook in between the power outages,” said store manager Julie Latimer.

Country Lane Groceries and Gas pumped gas and sold convenience store groceries all day, by relying on the generator that already powers the convenience and liquor stores every day.

“It was an easy day, though very busy — people were lined up out to the street,” said Country Lane owner Mike Gilmore. “But next time there’s a power outage, you’ll know where to go, because we’ll be fully functional.”

The Corral Bar and Grill also enjoyed a day of thriving business, as most locals know the bar owns a backup generator and can serve beverages even while the town freezes outside the splintered wooden doors. “God yeah, (it was packed),” said owner Joe Bozner. “It worked out great for us, because a lot of the other places were closed.” A few frustrations arose — not knowing that the power company was attempting rotating outages in town, the bar staff packed up the generator and put it back into storage each time the power flickered back on. Yet only an hour or so later, they would grumble and sigh as they heaved it out again when the power died once more.

Rocky Mountain Power spokesperson Jeff Hymas said that most businesses in Pinedale should own generators for such incidents, as the power company can never guarantee power during inclement weather in the wintertime.

But Chris Harper, general manager of Wolf Pinedale Dodge, said he doubted that a generator could sustain lighting and heating, as well as the computers that hold all financing information at his business.

Harper had to close the garage and car dealership on Thursday, which he estimated cost the store $5,000 in service business alone.

“We’re not even talking about (car sales),” Harper said of the estimated financial loss. He couldn’t guess how many people might have wandered through the doors to buy a truck that day. “I think the power company should have better backups. If this was a minor problem (at the substation), then what happens if we’re out of power for a week or a month? That would just run you out of business.”

The Bank of Sublette County in Pinedale also shut its doors for the day, as is bank policy during power outages.

“The alarms have battery backup, but you never know — plus, the cameras didn’t work,” said Tim Crawford, Pinedale branch president. “Even with online banking, there’s no way to transact business because the computers are down.”

The bank ATM also remained offline allday and through the night, and the staff had to wait until Friday to transmit batch work. “If someone wanted to chat about potential loans in the dark, we could help them, but there was no reason for anybody to be in there,” Crawford said. “Basically (the outage) was not helpful and a real pain.”

Rocky Mountain Bank of Pinedale also has a policy to lock its doors during an outage, though the bank did open during the occasional periods of power. “It was a very, very slow day,” said bank President Charles Stough.

1st Bank remained open until just after 2 p.m., when the bank closed because the outage caused problems for the computer server and employees couldn’t perform transactions.

Businesses at the Pinedale Industrial Park missed most of the rotating outages, with power off most of the day, said Renan Yanish, CEO and principal scientist for Aster Canyon Consulting, Inc. Even with no electricity, the business in the corner of the industrial site stayed open.

“We got a lot of things completed, like filing and cleaning the shop and offices,” Yanish said, adding that the office’s propane tank kept employees warm.

Employees at Rock Rabbit Café served coffee in the dark throughout the day, and brewed new pots whenever the power flickered back on.

“Thanks to our loyal customers, we had a good day,” wrote Rock Rabbit owner Dan Abernathy in an e-mail. One regular even left a flashlight for the cashier to use. “I'm hoping that the power company realizes that the need for caffeine is so great that they will donate a generator to us, so there will be no down time or calm nerves during our power outages.”

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