Whatcom businesses try to regroup following storm

Birch Bay Waterslides had no power on Monday, Aug. 31. The park received minor damage during Saturday's wind storm and will be closed through Wednesday.
Birch Bay Waterslides had no power on Monday, Aug. 31. The park received minor damage during Saturday's wind storm and will be closed through Wednesday. The Bellingham Herald

More than 48 hours after a windstorm knocked out power to thousands, Whatcom County businesses were still trying to get back on track, with a few still waiting for electricity.

As of Monday afternoon, Aug. 31, power was still out for at least three businesses on Samish Way in Bellingham. Operators of the Chevron gas station, the Supreme Bean coffee stand and the Subway sandwich shop waited while other nearby businesses were open and operating normally.

For Michael Mulcahy, the outage from Saturday’s storm has been especially unlucky. Earlier this month he moved Supreme Bean from the Columbia neighborhood to Samish Way and was just starting to build his customer base. He spent Saturday, Sunday and Monday using a small generator to keep his five refrigerators and an ice maker cold in an attempt to save his perishable products.

He’s had to regularly rotate the power from the generator to the different machines, only going home in Ferndale to get some sleep. Throughout this outage he’s had to keep his business closed, turning away people looking for a caffeine boost. He’s tried to get a larger generator, but all the stores he checked were sold out.

It’s a bit surprising to him that his business remained without power for this long, because he doesn’t see any damaged power lines nearby or many downed tree branches. In contacting Puget Sound Energy, the only estimate he’s heard is Tuesday evening, Sept. 1.

Next door at the Chevron gas station, many of the perishables inside the convenience store like ice cream, milk and frozen food will need to be thrown out, said Amarjit Bilg, who has owned the station with her husband, Kulwant, for 13 years. The gas pumps also operate on electricity, so they’ve been unable to provide gas for customers since Saturday. In the years they have operated the station, the power has never been out this long, she said.

“It’s terrible to watch people pull up to the pumps and I have to tell them we cannot help today,” Bilg said.

Next to the Chevron station is Pro Stock Athletic Supply, which was more fortunate than some of its neighbors. The store lost power on Saturday and had to close early but had electricity when workers returned Monday. Saturday was expected to be one of the busiest days of the year as customers dropped in to pick up fall sports equipment as well as school gear, but many customers were back on Monday, said employee Cory Campbell.

The outage came as a surprise to Campbell because windstorms usually don’t hit Whatcom County until November.

“This is not something you really think about this time of year,” Campbell said.

For those planning weddings, the last weekend in August is usually one of the safer bets to make for warm, sunny weather. That turned out to not be the case this year.

At Semiahmoo Resort in Blaine, staff were busy on Saturday helping guests, whether it was housekeeping directing traffic around fallen branches or security making sure guests had extra lamps for their rooms, said Iman Ali, supervisor of the spa at the resort. The wedding tent took quite a blow from the winds, but the events went forward as planned, she said.

At Semiahmoo’s spa, therapists used extra tea light candles and a gas fireplace to keep appointments when the power was out between noon and 5 p.m., said Ali.

“The therapists did extremely well adjusting to the situation,” Ali said.

The storm also had an impact on Birch Bay Waterslides. On its Facebook page the company noted that it would be closed Aug. 31 through Sept. 2 as it dealt with power outages and some minor damage to the park grounds. The plan was to be open on Thursday, Sept. 2, through the Labor Day weekend. Visit birchbaywaterslides.net for updates.

Social media also played a key role for businesses trying to keep customers up to date. For those who could get on Facebook, a steady stream of posts from local restaurants kept customers informed on what was happening. For many eateries perishables had to be thrown out, but once the power was back they served a limited menu while restocking what was lost.

The restocking was noticed at stores on Monday. Cash & Carry in Bellingham, which was fortunate to not lose power on the weekend, was experiencing an uptick in sales, said store manager Don Hennigs. On Monday morning the store was sold out of dry ice, and it was moving quite a bit of regular ice, meat, produce and other perishables.

It was a similar situation at Haggen, where customers were purchasing things like batteries, hot and prepared foods and anything else that didn’t require electricity, said Debora Pleva, a spokeswoman for the company.

As for the grocery company, it lost power to 11 stores between Ferndale and Puyallup. Power was restored to all the stores by Sunday evening, with Ferndale experiencing the longest outage. Pleva said they don’t have an estimate on the amount of product lost but said employees worked throughout Saturday evening and night trying to maintain cool temperatures in the refrigerators, utilizing dry ice and moving products into freezer trailers.

At Fred Meyer, the Lakeway store was hit harder than the Bakerview store. While the Bakerview store lost power for about 30 minutes and stayed open, the Lakeway store was without power for nearly nine hours and had a generator failure an hour into the outage. That forced the Lakeway store to be closed for several hours, said Melinda Merrill, community affairs manager for the company.

The company transferred all the perishable products it could into refrigerated trucks but couldn’t fit it all. Much of the product that had to be thrown away had already been replenished by Monday afternoon, she said.

Reach Dave Gallagher at 360-715-2269 or dave.gallagher@bellinghamherald.com. Follow him on Twitter at @BhamHeraldBiz and on Facebook at BellinghamHeraldBusiness.