Heat-Related Blackouts Hurting Small Businesses

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When a blackout hit Benny Marino's working-class block, he started to get nervous.

Soon the salmon, shrimp and skate he sold at his Marino & Sons Fish Market in Queens would spoil. When it did, the smell of rotting food and stale air began to permeate the neighborhood.

"We lost a lot of product," said Marino, whose grandfather opened the store in 1932.

Marino, like other business owners, was still reeling Monday from the blackout, which devastated the inventories of ice cream parlors, groceries, butcher shops, fish mongers and restaurants.

City officials estimated that at least 750 businesses were affected and said that the losses could reach into the millions of dollars.

"Certainly it's a huge number," said Robert W. Walsh, commissioner of the city's Department of Small Business Services.

The power crisis in New York City was echoed in the St. Louis area, where about 231,000 homes and businesses were still without electricity Monday, down from the more than a half-million left in the dark after strong storms knocked down power lines last week.

Further West, California energy managers issued a power emergency, warning they were dipping into reserve supplies to keep up with the demand for power.

Across the powerless area of northwest Queens, the scope of the disaster was coming into sharper focus as business owners surveyed the damage that left roughly 25,000 affected. By Tuesday morning, about 1,000 customers, representing an estimated 4,000 people, remained without electricity.

Marino, 58, said the power outage, which began July 17, coinciding with a heat wave, cost him $20,000. The butcher next door said the same. Mary Jo Mauro, the bookkeeper at Gian & Piero Bakery down the street, didn't have a tally yet.

She was still totaling the dairy carnage after throwing out the butter, milk and eggs — a baker's lifeblood.

"I can't even begin to tell you," she said. "It's a week's worth of business and all the food."

Mauro also feared that the blackout might have residual effects, causing wholesale customers to migrate to another store to get their bread, cake and pastries.

In the case of Marino, there were other concerns.

"People are leery of going shopping," said Marino, who has worked around the clock to reopen after getting power Saturday. "They don't know what they are going to get."

Joyce Moy, director of the LaGuardia Office of Economic Development, said there were other repercussions. It's not just a matter of simply throwing out bad food.

"Some businesses will have to lay off or have already laid off staff," she said. "Some people will not recover their losses because business interruption insurance is extremely hard to get after 9/11."

More than 100 businesses selling perishable goods are eligible to receive up to $7,000 each after filing claims with the Consolidated Edison utility, he said.

By Monday night, many shops on Marino's block still were closed. Open ones also dotted the street, but many ran on generators. Doctors' offices posted notes saying office hours were canceled.

Sam Arjariyawat manages the Thai Pavilion restaurant. Inside, tables were set with water glasses and silverware but the restaurant stood empty, and a musty smell lingered.

Around him, other stores and restaurants started to get power again.

But not him.

"I'm so jealous of the people who get to open," he said.