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Sandy's Devastation Presents Unique Challenges for Busy Merchants

Power-deprived residents are yearning for a hot meal and a stiff drink and merchants have struggled as most supply lines are down.

While many of Ridgewood’s residential areas still anxiously wait for their lights to come back on, most businesses are up and running. But even for those in the commercial district who still have power, there are unique challenges in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

Unlike during the surprise blizzard a year ago, when the downtown briefly lost power, few businesses have had to deal with the routine post-storm lapse in electricity.

“This was the first time ever we didn’t lose power,” said Patrick Gray of Super Cellars, who expected an outage and had made contingency plans for operating on generators in the wake of the storm. Losses after Irene had been over $20,000, as even brief gaps in refrigeration can leave huge holes in stock and revenue.

According to Ridgewood health officials, relatively few food establishments lost power this time around.  

The department is, as always, closely monitoring food temperatures at those still running on generators, but sanitation has been their main concern.  

The village may have to step in to help haul trash as downtown dumpsters pile high – the damage throughout the state has caused slowdowns at many of the private carting services that the commercial district relies on.

Food vendors have faced similar problems, leading to supply issues restaurants did not face after last year’s storms.

Many wholesale companies are based in Hackensack and Carlstadt, where a levee breach has caused extensive flooding, evacuations, and business closures. Gus Lainis, at the Daily Treat, says short-term supply problems make it difficult to remain open at capacity. “If we don’t get two or three companies back it will be hard,” he told Patch Thursday.

Since many restaurants rely on multiple vendors for their supplies, problems at even one vendor have effects on the entire business.

The Daily Treat’s bread supplier, for example, has had its power restored but, due to gasoline shortages, is unable to load its trucks.  

“You can’t serve hamburgers without bread, you can’t serve dinners without a roll,” said Lainis.

Problems with these relatively small details made it tough to maintain quality of service after the storm.

“We didn’t have enough to get by. By eight we had to close down because too many people were disappointed.” Increased restaurant business, as many people remain without functional kitchens, has added to the supply problems.

The Ridgewood Coffee Company, known for its high-end roasts from Inteligencia in New York City, has had to resort to coffee at grocery stores to keep the caffeine flowing.

Many restaurant owners reported doing more than double their normal business. Francesca's Pizza in Glen Rock has been wall-to-wall with diners. The story repeats itself throughout both towns' business districts.

“We’ve been at full capacity from noon to ten every night,” said Rob Cole, the general manager of Park West Tavern.

This increased demand comes while supplies dwindle—everything from napkins to beer is running low, and the restaurant has had to eliminate its seafood menu altogether.

Giuseppe Maselli, at Renato’s Pizza, was lucky enough to get a shipment early Monday.

“I knew the storm was coming and I wanted to be ready because I’ve been through it before,” he said. Even so, the sheer number of takeout orders from people without power forced him to turn people away. “The past two days we couldn’t sell to everybody. There’s only so much you can produce.”

Flexibility seems to be the key in keeping business at capacity.

Max Viola, at Pearl Restaurant, says his business model—a menu that changes daily and a small but regular cliental—have allowed him to avert the problems faced by many others.

Not being dependent on a set menu has allowed Pearl to work around supply problems. “I work with a fresh menu, so we have whatever I can find,” Viola said.

Other businesses have found flexibility in their relationships with others.

Some said that through prior storms they have formed reciprocal relationships with competitors to help refrigerate valuable supplies and fill gaps in supply shortages.

Issues still abound, and some have indicated that the loss of business during the storm and reduced capacity in its aftermath will have financial effects outlasting the cleanup of streets.

Gray, of Super Cellars, indicated that the full effects aren’t evident in the short-term. “It’s pretty devastating, but it doesn’t hit you right away.”

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