Duluth businesses cope with powerless Thursday

It was early in the afternoon on Thursday, and ordinarily Northern Waters restaurant in the Mount Royal Center would be bustling with lunch customers.

A Duluth police officer blocks the intersection at 46th Avenue East and Superior Street to keep motorists away from a downed power line. Bob King /
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It was early in the afternoon on Thursday, and ordinarily Northern Waters restaurant in the Mount Royal Center would be bustling with lunch customers.

On this Thursday, though, it was just owner Eric Goerdt and his managers sitting on chairs in a storefront that was surprisingly bright and cool, considering the plaza was without power in the hot July weather.

Northern Waters was one of numerous Duluth businesses, particularly in the Mount Royal, Kenwood and Lakeside areas, affected by power outages in the wake of Thursday morning's powerful storms. Most were closed, in many cases with hand-lettered signs on doors and windows announcing they'd reopen when power was restored.

On the door of the self-service laundromat in the Kenwood Shopping Center, a neatly printed note read: "Dear Customers, If you see lights, call me and I will be here in 5 minutes to power equipment back on."

It was signed with a first name and a telephone number.


There were at least a couple of exceptions - stores that stayed open even without electricity.

Next door to Northern Waters, Beth Moyer was sitting on a bench, ready to serve customers at Manor Cleaners. As at the restaurant, the front area of the business was suffused in natural light, and it felt reasonably cool. Moyer showed how she could use the flashlight app on her flip phone if she needed to go into the back room.

She wasn't exactly overrun with business.

"Very few people have come to pick up their clothes, blessed be," Moyer said. "A few of them have dropped off their clothes, which is very OK, because that is purely manual."

Back at Kenwood, the hand-lettered signs on the door and window of George's Liquor had the word "Open."

Inside, Tanner Hammerschmidt was serving a customer who had taken a break after working in her yard since 7:30 in the morning.

There hadn't been many customers, Hammerschmidt said. The liquor store gets much of its business from people who also shop at the shopping center's Super One Foods store, he said, and it was closed because of the power outage. Also, the fact that there were almost no cars in the parking lot created the impression that everything was closed - which was very nearly true.

But George's Liquor was making do.


"Keeping the beer cold is obviously the big thing," Hammerschmidt said. "But for us, nothing spoils."

He was keeping the coolers as closed-up as possible, he said. "Amazingly enough, still most of the stuff in here is at least somewhat cool."

With the computer and cash register down, transactions were taking place in cash, Hammerschmidt said.

Kenwood Shopping Center's Cost Cutters salon was closed, but manager Pam McKeever was at work, meeting with Rachel Mattila, regional manager for the chain.

"It's better here than it is at my house," McKeever said. "I have lots of destruction at my house, and I'd rather not be there."

She'd been up since 3:30, McKeever said. "We got all the way to West Duluth before we found power and my boyfriend found coffee."

On a typical weekday, the business might see 30 or more customers, she said. On this Thursday, she didn't know if she'd be able to open at all.

Mike Peterson, regional supervisor for Super One, said refrigerated trucks were being deployed Thursday to grocery stores in Lakeside, Pike Lake, Kenwood and Woodland to load perishable items in the wake of the widespread power outages.


Super One stores near Miller Hill Mall, in West Duluth and at the Plaza Shopping Center continued to operate with normal power, or with the help of backup generators.

Peterson and other staff members stood outside the Lakeside store Thursday morning, turning away customers in search of supplies and ice. They were peppered with questions about when they'd reopen.

That's up to Minnesota Power, Peterson replied.

Stephanie Nason, who manages a seasonal greenhouse set up in the Lakeside Super One parking lot, arrived Thursday morning to find a tree fallen on the hoop greenhouse, an arbor overturned and plants strewn about.

She cautiously eyed a large section of log still teetering in the crotch of a tree above the greenhouse and warned staff to give it a wide berth.

"It's definitely going to be fun trying to get this all straightened out," Nason said.

The greenhouse is just four days away from its scheduled closing date, July 25, and Nason said the operation was hobbled without power to run a cash register and credit card reader.

Yet Nason remained upbeat.

"We have good staff, and we work well together. We're like family - a little dysfunctional at times - but we're definitely a family, and we will get this done," she said.

All of the business owners and employees interviewed for this story seemed to be taking the situation in stride.

At Northern Waters, Goerdt was philosophical, figuring he probably wouldn't have had much business on this particular Thursday anyway.

"I think people are taking care of their own yards because there's so many trees down," said Goerdt, who woke up to no electricity in his home on Howard Gnesen Road and figured there wouldn't be power at his restaurant, either.

He and his managers had put some food on ice and taken some to his other restaurant, Northern Waters Smokehaus in Canal Park, which had power.

"We're just triaging the perishable food just to make sure nothing goes bad," Goerdt said.


News Tribune reporter Peter Passi contributed to this report.

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