Business is typically slow in the summer for restaurants and shops that line South Jersey’s main streets. Many residents leave for vacation, and others skip the window-shopping to avoid the heat.
But this season, heavy rain and winds have been punishing for merchants who have suffered power outages for days, along with extensive storm damage and flooding.
Chain stores and restaurants like McDonald’s and Wawa in West Deptford lost power on July 22. In Westville, the storm that began June 19 and dumped more than four inches of rain caused flooding in a Capital One bank, a laundromat, and Kasper Performance Edge, an automotive repair shop. Four blocks of Westfield Avenue, a business corridor in Camden, lost power for nearly 72 hours in late June.
The weather’s economic impact on businesses is still being tallied, but in Collingswood, last week’s storm — which brought 70 mph winds that toppled 15 utility poles — hit at a particularly bad time: Restaurant Week, an annual event that allows 11 local establishments to host their own Farm to Fork specials to ease the summer slump.
Merchants along Haddon Avenue in Collingswood said they lost thousands of dollars each in canceled reservations and spoiled goods because of a power outage from 5 p.m. Monday to Thursday morning.
“The beginning of last week hurt. These small business owners, when you’ve lost three days of revenue, it’s a killer,” said Collingswood Mayor Jim Maley. “Our community takes great pride in that downtown. They want it to be there, so they focus their shopping there."
Collingswood officials promptly decided their annual Restaurant Week would not be ruined.
They created a new campaign: “Lights On.” Restaurant Week for the 11 dining establishments has been extended until Aug. 2 and 30 shops will offer a 10 percent discount coupons for return trips in September.
“Come back to our restaurant, come back to shop,” Maley said. “Do all of it.”
Maley said many of Collingswood’s 14,000 residents frequent the downtown, where 90 percent of the local businesses are located. He said that while other towns have been affected by this summer’s weather, no other community faced what his borough did last week.
Cecilia Cabrera, the front manager of El Sitio, an Ecuadoran-influenced steakhouse, said she has appreciated the community support after the storm, but added that her business was hit hard because of the power outage
“What is lost is lost,” she said. “It’s nice that there was an extension … but it’s a loss.”
El Sitio is not open on Mondays, but was forced to keep its doors closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Cabrera said they canceled 40 reservations last Wednesday. The staff salvaged what food they could but ended up tossing inventory — chicken, beef fillets, and seafood to be used for paella, an option from the restaurant’s $35 “Farm to Fork” three-course promotional deal.
Jose Alban, a chocolatier and co-owner of the Candy Jar by 1892, spent part of last week transporting his gelato to nearby freezers.
He said the store lost about $350 in melted frozen treats, on top of an estimated $1,200 in revenue from the three-day closure. Fortunately, the temperature in the store did not rise above 75 degrees. Then, Alban said, the chocolate, already beginning to liquify, would have been ruined.
“We keep going,” he said.
Pete’s News, a convenience store a few blocks down, threw out an estimated $1,000 worth of food, said store owner Dipack Bhuta. South Jersey Foot & Ankle Centers ran a generator to stay open, but the physician relied on light streaming through the window, said office manager Elizabeth Hobbs. The clinic rescheduled seven patients.
Megan Hartling, 37, who has worked at Frugal Thrift & Vintage for eight years, said business has suffered over the last few months because of the weather. She said she appreciates the “Lights On” campaign and said sales improved over the weekend. On Saturday, she said, the store made $700, more than the average for a typical weekend day.
She said she thinks many customers have stopped by just to support locally owned stores.
Marjorie Mannix, 63, who has lived in Collingswood for two years, stopped for lunch at Sabrina’s Cafe, one of the restaurants in the “Lights On” campaign.
“I think it’s a great community effort,” she said.