Local businesses weather week-long winter storm

January 17

Now that the recent storm’s icy grip has softened, area businesses are beginning to see a return to normal. But during the storm weather that was a boon to some companies caused a world of hurt to others, and all businesses were affected to some degree.

At one end of the spectrum was the busy life of the towing companies. Not surprisingly, calls more than tripled and all available drivers were on the job.

“We’ve been very busy; busy-busy-busy,” Jason Shaner, owner of River’s Edge Towing said Wednesday. “Busiest we’ve ever been, I think.” The towing company, which has been in operation since 1983 and also has a station in Cascade Locks, came to the rescue of many a stranded driver.

“We helped lots of semi-trucks, helping them move along until they could get going,” he said. “We even had to pull out city police and crews a few times — they all get stuck.”

The extreme weather didn’t seem to hurt downtown restaurant North Oak Brasserie, either.

“It was business as usual at North Oak,” according to employee Jill Monier. “Our food purveyors made it through every day, and we did a pretty good business, too.”

But most local businesses felt the storm in a less positive way, even ones that usually benefit from adverse weather.

“Usually when weather is bad business picks up, but this time the weather was so bad it hurt us because people just couldn’t get around,” said Nan Contreras, store manager at Papa Murphy’s Pizza.

Jeff Olson, owner of Orchard Lanes bowling alley, was especially hard-hit by the storm.

“We were shut down for five to seven days,” he said. “We had to cancel leagues because some of them come here from far away and it was just too dangerous.

“This doubly hurt us because this is our prime season,” he went on. “This time of year lots of people go open bowling; when the weather’s nice they don’t do that, they go outside.”

For some, like the Hood River Hotel, slow business was compounded by property damage from the heavy snow and extreme cold. General manager Cathy Butterfield said that, though care had been taken to insulate all exposed pipes, one storage room got overlooked.

“The overhead sprinklers froze and flooded one and a half suites,” she said. Business suffered as well.

“For the first three nights we were about a third occupied with truckers and stranded motorists — otherwise it was really, really slow. Usually this time of year there are lots of skiers.”

Timing was everything at the Columbia Gorge Hotel. Every year the hotel closes for a week in the winter for maintenance and cleaning, and the storm hit during that week, general manager Karl Wells said.

“For us, lucklily, we were going to be closed anyway,” he said. “We did have a couple of small frozen pipes on a couple of heating units, but it was an easy fix.”

Heavy snow was responsible for the collapse of a patio cover at Abruzzo Italian Grill.

“We lost about three evenings of service; one night because of the damage — we wanted to make sure it was safe before we let anyone in,” owner Glen Pearce said, “and the other nights were safety and weather-related. The upside is that the days we were open we were very busy — people had cabin fever, I guess.”

Snow damage was also felt by the Hood River Aquatic Center and the new county library. At the pool, the snow load caused a large tear in one of the outside roof panels, manager Dawn Poe said.

“The cover is like an overgrown tent, so most of the snow slides off,” she said. “But there’s a place where it catches and builds up. We need to get it fixed pretty soon, because it not only looks ugly but it makes a huge difference in our heating costs.”

June Knudson, head librarian at the brand-new Hood River County Library, said this is the first time in 30 years that she can remember that the library has been closed for four nights in a row.

“The storm was a seriously good test of all the new building systems,” Knudson said. “And as a result there will be some re-design and retro-fitting in some areas, including the scuppers (roof drains). There were a few leaks, also some ice damage.”

The freeway closure that created such a back-up of trucks here delayed some local deliveries, but not all. Neither Safeway nor Rosauers suffered much in that respect.

“Most of our trucks come out of eastern Washington so they weren’t affected by the freeway closure,” Rosauers assistant store manager Doug Bohn said. “The only trouble we had was that people were buying more than normal; we ran out of milk, for instance. So we got tight on a few things, but that was about it.”

Nearby, the Heights Shell station did run out of gas before the freeway opened up. A tanker had topped them off just before the closure, but by mid-day Friday they were running on empty.

“Thursday the freeway opened up and then got shut down again before a tanker could get through,” Devin Hobbs said. “We were out of fuel for four hours, and we didn’t get store freight until Saturday.”

Cascade Locks was effectively cut off from the rest of Oregon for a few days, but the Bridge of the Gods was a lifeline.

“When the electricity went off in Stevenson people came over here to eat,” said Linda Blakely, supervisor at the Charburger. “We stayed open because the people in the motels who were stuck here came in, and the locals too. Our hours got cut, but that happens every winter.”

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