Montcalm County businesses still recovering from last week’s storms

By Cory Smith • Last Updated 5:04 pm on Thursday, July 12, 2012

Despite losing a large amount of revenue after being forced to close during one of the summer’s busiest weekends for area businesses, Clifford Lake Inn has reopened and is planning to host it’s previous holiday festivities during this upcoming weekend. — Daily News/Cory Smith

As more than 9,000 people were without power at one time or another after a storm tore through parts of Montcalm County on Thursday of last week, none may have been hit harder than area businesses that depend on holiday weekends for big business.

For Connie McKeown, owner of Clifford Lake Inn west of Stanton, a power outage from the storm, combined with triple-digit temperatures, brought devastating results to her business.

The walk-in cooler at Clifford Lake Inn, seen here fully stocked, had to be emptied, sanitized and restocked as high temperatures spoiled nearly all of the food that was stored for the 4th of July holiday weekend. — Daily News/Cory Smith

“We were hit by the storm and lost power,” she said. “If I had to guess, it was probably just after 2 a.m. Thursday morning.”

For most, loss of power meant sitting in the dark on one of the hottest days on record in Michigan, but for McKeown’s restaurant, it meant much more.

“We lost everything,” she said. “Ninety percent of what was in our big coolers, everything in our line coolers and we had just received a truckload of fresh product to last us through Sunday, which was ruined.”

McKeown arrived at her business early Thursday morning to find all of her product spoiled by the high temperatures.

“It had already been very hot that week, so my coolers temped up to 47 degrees in no time,” she said. “We spend that day going through everything, taking inventory, throwing it out and then sanitizing everything.”

According to McKeown, once power was restored the power surge from the storm killed the industrial air conditioners, which keep the building cool.

With temperatures reaching 104 degrees outside and as high as 127 degrees inside the kitchen, there was no opening the business to the public.

“We still couldn’t open because we didn’t have product and we couldn’t get product until Friday,” she said. “But even then, we couldn’t prep the businesses in time to fully reopen.”

Lost Holiday Weekend

Being a holiday weekend, the lack of businesses was a killer for McKeown’s business.

With musical acts originally planned throughout the week and extra food ordered for the holiday weekend, Clifford Lake Inn remained closed from Thursday through Monday on one of the busiest weekends of the year for the business.

McKeown estimates that she lost approximately $30,000 worth of revenue having to shut down for those five days.

“I can’t even explain, it’s just huge the amount we lost,” she said.

But for McKeown, it was the constant stream of turning away customers left and right that was the hardest.
“Some people understood, but most were desperately searching for an air conditioned place to enjoy a meal, because most people around here still did not have electricity at home,” she said.

Additional coolers throughout the kitchen at Clifford Lake Inn had to be emptied of all product and sanitized before they could be used for business again. — Daily News/Cory Smith

McKeown said she is planning a big “re-opening” this weekend, with an attempt to recreate the holiday atmosphere that customers would have enjoyed the previous weekend.

“We want to give people a reason to stay longer, we want to be busy,” she said. “We’re not going to let the storm win. We are still here and open for businesses.”

Clifford Lake Inn officially reopened Tuesday and is now back to regular business hours after being closed Thursday through Monday.

McKeown said the circumstances could easily “put a businesses under,” and with the storm affecting more than 9,000 residents in Montcalm County with power outages, she is encouraging people to get out and support local restaurants and businesses that were forced to close last week.

“The people who own these independent businesses and make it work, being a private employer in the community, I just hope people understand how devastating this storm was to these types of businesses around here,” she said. “Even though you have insurance, it’s still a major process and events like this completely shut off your cash flow.”

Ice Cream Shop Success

One of those small business owners, Tim Stout, who owns Ike’s Ice Cream Shack in Crystal Township, was much more fortunate.

A power outage at Ike’s Ice Cream Shack in Crystal Township last week ruined all hand-dipped ice cream at the store, but after power was restored Thursday afternoon the store saw a surge in business as residents without power flocked to the restaurant. — Daily News/Cory Smith

Waking up at 3 a.m. at his residence in St. Johns, Stout quickly turned on the TV and saw that the storm was tracking through Crystal and Carson City.

“I packed up two of my emergency chest coolers and headed straight to Crystal,” he said.
Stout arrived at his business at about 4 a.m. and immediately starting transporting his dairy product into the emergency coolers.

“Our big freezers are too big to be run off of regular generators, so there was no way we could stay open with no power,” he said. “I moved all of my frozen product into the emergency coolers.”

When the next truckload of product arrived at 11 a.m. Thursday, Stout said he had to turn away the product and pick it up himself later once electricity was restored to the business.

He estimates he had about $4,000 worth of product being delivered, but because his vendor was able to return the product, he did not lose that inventory.

“We were able to re-open at about 3:30 p.m. on Thursday,” he said. “But most residents on the north end of Crystal Lake were still without power. Fortunately we lucked out, as we only lost about four hours of business.”

Stout estimates he only lost about $240 worth of product, including all hand-dipped ice cream on hand, but his business surged in the later hours with so many Crystal residents still without power and searching for a source of food.

“Business was absolutely ridiculous this past week,” he said. “I haven’t worked here in previous years, but the 4th of July is the biggest weekend of the year in Crystal from what I’ve been told and it showed.”
Stout said despite having luck turn in his favor, he understands most businesses were not so lucky.

“We were very lucky,” he said. “We’re not a very large businesses and don’t have nearly as much product as most other restaurants, I’m sure most other owners are having a hard time this week.”

Dianne Beard, of Ithaca (left), receives a soft-serve ice cream cone from Tim Stout, owner of Ike’s Ice Cream Shack in Crystal Township Tuesday afternoon. A storm that knocked out power for most township residents brought big business to Stout’s restaurant during a busy 4th of July weekend. — Daily News/Cory Smith

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