‘If we have to do this multiple times a year, that won’t be good’: North Bay lives upended by outage

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Many shoppers had to leave grocery stores empty-handed Thursday in their quest for bags of ice to prevent food from rotting during the second day tens of thousands of people across Sonoma County endured having no power.

The Safeway on Fourth Street north of Montgomery Village was one of three in the area able to overcome the PG&E shut-off with a generator to keep the lights on and checkout scanners working. But disappointed residents walked in to see a large freezer without power and absent the item worth more than its weight, immediately leaving in frustration and several cursing under their breadth.

Peggy Dombeck, 77, who lives in Oakmont, double-checked with the Safeway service desk that there wasn’t a secret ice stash somewhere in the back of the store. The store manager confirmed the last bags sold in a half hour Wednesday. More was on order, but he didn’t know when it would arrive and he couldn’t recommend another place to get it, forcing her to leave the busy store without the prize.

“I can get by on the rest of it with lanterns and candles or whatever,” said Dombeck on her way out the door. “But everything in the fridge is spoiling, so that’s the priority.”

Residents on Thursday encountered countless storefronts throughout pockets of Santa Rosa with darkened windows and handwritten signs taped to glass front doors: closed due to a lack of power.

Still, a handful of businesses charged ahead without power and offered limited services. Two Wells Fargo bankers wearing suits sat out front of the Fourth Street branch next to ATMs out of service. They told customers to visit another branch in Santa Rosa, or come inside one at a time to make deposits.

“We’re not totally off the grid,” said Joce Richard, one of the bankers. “Well, we are, but we’re still able to do it by horse and buggy.”

Workers at a Mary’s Pizza Shack restaurant without power on Summerfield Road gathered inside in the natural light early Thursday afternoon to plan for how they will approach the next time PG&E cuts electricity. CEO Vince Albano expected lost sales at his three stores closed from the shutdown to reach $20,000 per day, and said the east Santa Rosa location already had tossed an estimated $10,000 worth of cheese, dough and meat toppings the day before.

“All we can do is throw it away, clean up and be ready,” said Albano, who operates 10 of the pizzerias in the county. “I’m generally supportive of what PG&E is trying to do, but ... there’s a learning curve. The challenging thing is not knowing when we can bring inventory in. And if we have to do this multiple times a year, that won’t be good.”

Aside from considering the financial toll the forced closures would have on his staff, he said he had begun to consider whether any of the losses would be covered by insurance.

“We’re insured, for business interruption, they call it,” Albano said. “But how much, I don’t know. Fires are one thing, but submitting for a PG&E shutdown, I don’t know how that’ll work.”

Meanwhile, business was booming Thursday afternoon at Oakmont Village Market. With two gas-powered generators humming to maintain some of its refrigerated cases and the registers for cash sales, the small general store was one of the few open in the area.

“There are 5,000 or 6,000 people (without power). We have to be open,” said owner David Arcado, who has run the business with his wife, Laura, for two decades. “We have to do something. People just want to get something to eat.”

The local market normally puts out a large barbecue grill on Thursday and Friday, but the event is not nearly the draw it was by 1 p.m. Thursday. They’d already slung as many as 200 burgers and 150 hot dogs to many seniors in the area who had no way of cooking a warm meal. In addition, Arcado made six trips in his pickup — and was planning a seventh — to buy 4,000 pounds of bagged ice to ensure customers were stocked up.

Pat Armstrong, 75, of Oakmont, caught word that the local market had ice, and ended up also leaving with a cheeseburger to go.

“I have no more food in my house, so here I came,” she said, noting the milk had gone sour and the yogurt spoiled the day after she lost power. “I had no idea they had burgers, so this is working out for us.”

Arcado also spent almost $2,500 for 1,800 pounds of dry ice to save the store’s other perishable foods during the power shutdown. He said they lost $500 worth of ice cream before getting the rest of the supply, plus the eggs, cheese and sliced meats, into stacked portable coolers stored in the back.

“It’s just crazy,” he said of the outage. “We just have to deal with it. We just tried to make some people happy. Hopefully it pays for all of the dry ice.”

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