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Power cuts a body blow to business in busiest shopping week of year

A customer waits outside P-Tech in Hamilton during a nearly five-hour power outage (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Hopes for a busy last Friday before Christmas for shops and restaurants were dashed yesterday after the lights went out across the island.

Karl Massam, the general manager of restaurant group Yellowfin, said he was “excited” on the way to work at the prospect of a better business day at the end of a dire year for the industry.

But Mr Massam, who runs several restaurants on Front Street, including Port ’O’ Call, said the day would have been “maybe 20 per cent of what we would have done this Friday last year”.

The incoming head of the Chamber of Commerce’s restaurant division added: “We lost almost 100 per cent of that 20 per cent.”

Mr Massam said yesterday would have been “the first day in ten when we would actually have had some lunch business” after Covid-19 restrictions forced the group to cancel most of the Christmas reservations.

Hamilton retailers said the power returned just before 3.30pm – about five hours after generators ground to a halt at Belco.

George Grundmuller, the president and chief executive of the Phoenix Stores chain, said: “I’m just beyond myself. There has to be some accountability on how this could happen in a sophisticated country like Bermuda.

“What’s the electric company doing to compensate us for this loss of business? In my 30 years as a CEO I’ve never seen anything like it.”

Mr Grundmuller said the weekend before Christmas was “the busiest of the year, no doubt about it”.

“For us to close down all these hours is a terrible loss of sales. I don’t think there’s any way to make that up between now and the holidays.”

Shoppers were lined up outside Phoenix on Reid Street, but Mr Grundmuller said town was “pretty empty” and that some stores had decided to cut their losses and close.

Philip Barnett, the president of the Island Restaurant Group, which includes the Pickled Onion and the Hog Penny in Hamilton, said: “It’s the best Friday of the Christmas season, or should have been – this seems to be the 2020 that keeps on giving.

“We’ve been able to get most of our places open, but we lost all our lunch business. Some places were able to improvise.”

He said one consolation for restaurant owners was that stock in deep freeze could stay “very much frozen” over hours without electricity.

Lorraine Shailer, the chairwoman of the Chamber of Commerce retail division, said: “A lot of people had finished quarantine and were desperately waiting to get shopping.”

Ms Shailer, the general manager of the Hamilton branch of Marks & Spencer, was rushing to get the shop ready for customers right after the lights came on.

She said: “It’s probably our best Friday of the year.

“At least it seems like people have come back to town or waited. Hopefully we will see more people.”

She added many shops had planned to stay open late tonight.

Darren Booth, the owner of The Booth 2 on Reid Street, said that he had a 75 per cent drop in sales yesterday because of the blackout.

He added he sent staff home in the afternoon and manned the clothing store on his own.

Mr Booth said: “I wouldn’t call it a loss just yet because they might come tomorrow or they might come Sunday, but sales for me are down.”

Mr Booth added that the biggest drawback was that he could only accept cash, which forced him to hold items for customers or hope that they returned on another day.

He added that the store would stay open until 9pm in a bid to attract shoppers.

Mr Booth said that he would try his best to stay optimistic.

He said: “I feel like we’ve seen a lot of things this year, so if this is the worst thing to happen this month, then it’s not that bad.

“That’s one thing this year has taught us – to be resilient.”

Ian Cameron, the owner of The Griot bookstore on Parliament Street, said that they tried to make the most of what was supposed to be their year’s biggest week of sales.

He added that sales had been good throughout the week and he expected to be busy all day.

But Mr Cameron added that, because of the blackout, they only served five customers.

He said: “This is going to cut down on our numbers dramatically.

“The only saving grace is that we are still processing online orders, so we are able to fulfil them and also to deliver those items.”

Mr Cameron added: “We did have a few customers come in and all they had were bank cards and what we did was basically take their information down so once the electricity comes back on we’ll take their card information and process the order.”

But he said he was confident the store’s sales would pick up over the few shopping days left to Christmas.

He said: “It’s been insanely busy – this has easily been our busiest week since we opened up back in February of this year.”

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Published December 19, 2020 at 9:29 am (Updated December 19, 2020 at 9:30 am)

Power cuts a body blow to business in busiest shopping week of year

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