Some businesses helped, some hurt by winter storm

Telegraph staffFebruary 13, 2014 

This week’s ice storm was bad for trees and some residents, but it’s been both a blessing and a curse to some Middle Georgia businesses.

While falling trees brought a rush of emergency work to local tree companies, worries about slick roads and a lack of customers caused some businesses to shut their doors.

Stephen Lunsford, owner of Lunsford Tree Services, plans to work through one or two weekends helping out homeowners, but he wishes he didn’t have to.

“We have been really busy today. I don’t wish that on anyone for sure,” he said Thursday. “We’ve probably taken five or six trees off houses today, and then we’ve got a lot on yards, fences and driveways, stuff like that.”

Lunsford figures the last time he’s seen this kind of damage was the Mother’s Day tornadoes of 2008.

Allie Griffith, front desk manager at the Holiday Inn Express in Milledgeville, said the hotel gets sold out perhaps four days a week. This time, though, most customers were local people coming from darkened homes after their power went out.

When asked why, she said, “probably because we’re the only one with lights on.”

“I don’t think our phone has ever rang this much,” she said.

February is often a slow time around most lake resorts, but The Lodge On Lake Oconee in Eatonton was packed before anyone lost electricity.

“We’ve been booked for the last two days with Georgia Power and Mississippi Power” crews, said hotel employee Lu Anne Smith. Those crews may leave Friday morning.

Some businesses, though, weren’t able to stay open.

“We usually don’t close for anything,” said Rachel Phillips, owner of Jack & Darcy, a women’s clothing store with shops in Macon and Milledgeville. “If we can stay open, we usually do.”

The store in Milledgeville had to close Thursday because two employees couldn’t get out of their driveway because of ice and snow.

Although Phillips had posted on the shop’s Facebook page that the Macon store would be closed Wednesday and Thursday, she was able to remain open Thursday.

“We’ve actually had a lot of customers come in to get Valentine’s stuff,” she said. “It’s bad timing for Valentine’s Day, but we’re definitely ready. ... We are getting in all our spring merchandise, so I’m just ready for it to warm up and stay warm.”

While some retail customers may choose another day to shop when a store is closed, it’s not the same for a restaurant.

Jimmy Pierson, owner of Cheers in Macon, said he was closed Wednesday night.

“After counting cars on the road, we didn’t see the need in it (to open),” Pierson said. “It’s a loss of business that you never recoup. Your customers don’t really go somewhere else because everybody is closed. We assume we did the right thing by closing.”

Apparently some customers anticipated Cheers might be closed Wednesday night, “so we were unusually busy Tuesday night,” he said. “But it doesn’t make up for (being closed Wednesday.)”

A bigger problem was getting expected deliveries.

“Some of the liquor we buy and also food we buy comes from Atlanta,” Pierson said. “We still haven’t gotten a delivery on food or some of the liquor we ordered because of (carriers) not being able to get out of Atlanta. ... We probably won’t get it until Friday or Saturday.”

The weather changed shopping habits at the Advance Auto Parts in Gray, said Tim Gamez, retail manager. Fewer people were coming in, and most of the customers were looking for items like spark plugs and batteries for generators, or even windshield wipers. The store wasn’t selling nearly as many regular car parts like alternators or wheel bearings.

“We actually see a little less business because of the storm,” Gamez said.

Past and present power outages set in play much of the week for Lina Bark, head of customer service at Flex Till You’re Famous, a Milledgeville business that sells limited-edition motivational gym apparel. The company was worried about power outages so it set up everything in advance for an automated release of its new gear at 9 p.m. Wednesday.

“Whether we lost power or not, it was still going to happen,” she said.

But the power did go off at Bark’s Milledgeville home, and she called around to hotels without finding a room. Because of earlier power outages at her house, she’d had an air mattress ready to go at the company’s heated warehouse. She said her home’s power was back on Thursday afternoon.

David Thompson, vice president of business development with Piedmont Construction, said the winter weather hasn’t delayed any construction.

“You just kind of work through it,” Thompson said. “If it rains we can’t work. If it’s below 40 (degrees) we can’t work with concrete. If you can’t work Tuesday and Wednesday, you might work Saturday and Sunday.”

Business also was pretty much normal at L.E. Schwartz & Son Inc., a Macon roofing business, said administrative coordinator Paula Sparrow. Only one call Thursday morning was directly from the storm. Business had been steady from people who had been noticing more leaks during recent rains.

But business was booming for Gray Brother’s Tree Services of Macon. Owner Christian Gray said he’d seen plenty of fallen limbs and some fallen trees but no major damage to houses.

“We’re always busy, but we had probably 10 to 15 emergency jobs come in today,” said Gray, whose brothers run tree services in Alabama and Augusta.

Debra Hopkins, a designer with Jean & Hall Florists in Macon, was busy Thursday getting Valentine’s Day arrangements ready. The weather slowed some deliveries, but “we just kept going,” Hopkins said.

When the florist tries to deliver to a school or business that’s closed, Jean & Hall Florists must reroute the delivery to the intended recipient.

“So yes, that has kind of put a twist into things,” Hopkins said. “But overall we’re holding our own and just plowing on through.”

To contact writer Linda S. Morris, call 744-4223. To contact writer Mike Stucka, call 744-4251.

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