Most supermarket operators in the Northeast were operating at close to normal last Friday afternoon, less than 24 hours after a massive power outage prompted them to scramble to find ways to keep stores open and customers satisfied.
Some stores without power operated with generators for several hours, while some said they moved refrigerated trailers to their stores so perishable merchandise could be moved from the shelves for storage to prevent spoilage.
Heavy demand items included batteries, water, candles and charcoal -- so people without power at home could cook outdoors -- with some retailers also reporting heavy buying of milk, fruit juices, eggs, yogurt and luncheon meats. Quipped one retailer, "Customers were buying the same kinds of merchandise they buy before a big snowstorm except for antifreeze, rock salt and snow shovels."
While customers were generally orderly, one retailer told SN a store manager was advised that three men were planning to rob his store Thursday evening; when they entered the store, the manager asked them to leave, "and they did and then proceeded to rob a nearby gas station before they were caught," the retailer told SN.
A&P, Montvale, N.J., was particularly hard hit by the power outage, with more than 200 stores in the New York-New Jersey-Connecticut area and more than 100 Farmer Jack stores in the Detroit area affected, spokeswoman Patti Councill said.
Power was back at most of the New York-area stores by Friday morning, she noted, but all 109 Farmer Jack stores were still closed at midday Friday.
Gristede's Foods, New York, which operates all 49 of its stores in New York City, with most in Manhattan, was also hard hit by the power outage. "It was a disaster," John Catsimatidis, chairman, president and chief executive officer, told SN.
He said 18 stores had power restored by 11 a.m. Friday, but 31 were still without power by mid-afternoon, with perishables losses likely to cost "a few million dollars," Catsimatidis said.
Some Gristede's units remained opened without power, selling goods on a cash-only basis, he noted. "And to speed things along, we simply estimated the amount of each item and added the totals in our heads -- whatever we had to do to make sure customers were happy," Catsimatidis said.
Price Chopper Supermarkets, Schenectady, N.Y., had outages of between four and eight hours at 68 of its 105 stores, but power had been restored to all of them by 1 a.m. Friday morning, Mona Golub, a spokeswoman, told SN. However, the company kept all locations open throughout the blackout "in an effort to do whatever we could to serve customers," she said.
Asked about perishables losses, Golub replied, "We're not tallying numbers at this point. We're more concerned with serving customers than talking losses."
When Price Chopper stores reopened, they operated at half-light to save power, Golub said, "and we've been told to expect some short-term blackouts throughout the day as the power company tests the system," she added.
Pathmark Stores, Carteret, N.J., lost power at 70 of its 143 stores for some period of time Thursday, and three remained closed Friday afternoon, while 14 others were operating on generator power, Harvey Gutman, a spokesman told SN.
The chain operated with generators at most stores on Thursday afternoon but had to close at dark "because we didn't have enough generators to run the lights and keep perishables merchandise fresh," Gutman explained. "But we definitely lost some merchandise due to spoilage."
Shaw's Supermarkets, West Bridgewater, Mass., said 12 of its 23 stores in Connecticut lost power for several hours Thursday afternoon, but power was restored by 8 p.m. to four locations and by 1:30 a.m. at the other eight, a spokeswoman said. "Everything is back to normal, and the stores are functioning fine," she told SN Friday afternoon.
Wegmans Food Markets, Rochester, N.Y., said power went out at 22 stores in Rochester, eight in Syracuse and six in Buffalo, and while all of them ran on generator power for a few hours, "we closed all of them for safety reasons around 9 p.m., shortly after it got dark Thursday night," Katie Crane, media relations coordinator, told SN. However, power had been restored to all locations by 11 a.m. Friday morning, she said.
Supplies of demand items held up well at Wegmans -- "although we did run out of batteries at a couple of stores," Crane noted -- "because of preparations we've made in the past in case of short-term energy outages, ice storms or possible terrorism, so we were well-stocked on the items we needed."
She said the company expects perishables losses will be minimal "because we moved refrigerated trucks to the stores without large backroom coolers, so we were able to store merchandise in trucks overnight."
Penn Traffic Co, Syracuse, N.Y., was impacted by outages at 44 P&C Foods stores in upstate New York and 20 Quality Markets in western New York and northwest Pennsylvania, with outages lasting for two to 10 hours, a chain spokesman said, noting power had been restored to all stores by 4 a.m. Friday.
"None of the stores lost any perishables because we brought in refrigerated trucks or packed products in dry ice, which is a procedure we've had in place in the past for short-term blackouts," the spokesman said.
Giant Eagle, Pittsburgh, said the power outage impacted stores in Cleveland and Toledo, Ohio, though John Tedesco, a spokesman, said he wasn't sure of the precise numbers. "It's a moving target," he told SN, "and we're doing all we can to make sure we're able to meet customer demand at stores that are operating."
Wakefern Food Corp., Elizabeth, N.J., said 75 to 80 of its 192 ShopRite stores in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut were affected by outages to varying degrees, but all but one store were back in business by late Friday afternoon, Karen Meleta, a spokeswoman, told SN.
Several ShopRite units operated on low-level generator power long enough to allow customers already in the stores to check out, she added, while others were able to maintain business-as-usual with full generator power.
There were some delayed deliveries after the outage hit on Thursday afternoon, Meleta added, but the only one of Wakefern's distribution centers that had to shut down was a general merchandise facility in Jamesburg, N.Y. She said the company's produce warehouse in Elizabeth was impacted only briefly, while other facilities were not affected at all.
SN subscribers may be getting this issue late because of production delays due to the Northeast blackout that began shortly after 4 p.m. Eastern time, Thursday, Aug. 14.