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Irene’s Impact

Some businesses were busy before, after big storm

September 4, 2011
By MIKE ZUMMO , The Leader Herald

Jim Landrio had never seen traffic back up along North Comrie Avenue in Johnstown the way it did Monday.

As traffic lined up as trucks and cars were rerouted to the local roads with the New York State Thruway closed in the wake of flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, Landrio, the general manager of the Holiday Inn, and his staff were seeing an increase in demand for rooms and giving directions as people tried to find ways around the traffic.

Flooding caused by the storm last weekend damaged numerous local businesses, including longtime restaurant Russo's Grill in Amsterdam and the Dairy Bar outside the Fonda Fairgrounds in Fonda. Other businesses lost power during the storm and quickly recovered.

Article Photos

Russo’s restaurant in Amsterdam, shown Thursday, was severely damaged by flooding as a result of Tropical Storm Irene along with several other businesses along the Mohawk River. Russo’s plans to repair the damage and reopen, the owner says.

The Leader-Herald/Barbara Cook

Some businesses that were fortunate enough to be spared by the storm's effects actually saw an increase in business.

The Stewart's on Main Street in Johnstown, for example, was swamped by motorists early last week who were detoured to Main Street as a result of road closures.

Before the storm, The Associated Press reported crowds going to grocery stores and home-improvement stores to buy generators and sump pumps and stock up on water, batteries for flashlights and lanterns.

During the storm, Landrio said the increase in business was moderate. The Holiday Inn did its heaviest business Monday.

However, rooms at the Holiday Inn were limited because National Grid booked half the hotel after bringing extra crews into the area to work on recovery.

"They were bringing in crews and subcontractors from different parts of the country to restore power in our area," Landrio said.

Utility trucks also were seen in the parking lot at the Super 8 Motel across the street from the Holiday Inn, and the parking lot at Microtel was full at about 8 p.m. Sunday, as residents near the Mohawk River were required to leave their homes.

As the rain and wind died down Sunday night, some families found themselves eating out when they were displaced or had no power at home.

Harold's Restaurant in Gloversville didn't lose power and had strong business Sunday and Tuesday nights.

Owner Harold Bell said his Tuesday was busier than Friday.

"It was really a wild weekend here from Sunday evening right until Friday," he said.

After the storm, Holiday Inn staff were busy giving directions to stranded motorists and booking rooms.

"The demand for rooms was unlike anything we had seen before," Landrio said. "We had three or four people at our front desk trying to assist people coming off the road. It was constant for six or eight hours. We were sending people to Saratoga, as some people were just looking to get out of the affected area."

For some businesses, such as drug stores and grocers, the boost in sales came primarily in the days before the storm. Walgreens, which had a little more than 100 stores closed as of Monday, said top-selling products before the hurricane included water, batteries, flashlights, weather radios and non-perishable food.

For home-improvement merchants, the storm gave a boost to sales that's expected to continue as people rebuild and clean up.

Steve Holmes, a spokesman at Home Depot, the nation's largest home-improvement chain, said that in the days before the storm, shoppers were buying generators, batteries, plywood and water. Now, they're buying chain saws and cleaning supplies, trash bags and humidifiers.

"Our teams have kept moving products to stores to replenish," he said.

Some businesses had to deal with power outages. Others struggled with more severe problems.

In Amsterdam, businesses on West Main Street sustained damage from flooding. Russo's Grill is shut down as it makes repairs so it can reopen. Anything Automotive & Tire cleaned up after the storm and was able to open late last week.

Some businesses were ready for the flooding.

Richardson Brands in Canajoharie had seen flooding before, when a heavy rain storm flooded the Mohawk River, leaving most of the valley underwater. There is a thick blue line on the first floor of the production plant, about 5 feet off the floor, representing the water level from the previous flood.

This time, the company acted quickly, putting into place a contingency plan it developed after the 2006 flood.

"If we thought we would have one of those floods again, we [developed a plan where we] could move all of our product to a third-party warehouse, and take equipment that was sitting on the floor and move it quickly to higher ground or an outside facility," CEO Don Butte said.

Since the departure of Beech-Nut, Richardson has been consolidating its production in Canajoharie. Butte said the company made sure the most sophisticated equipment was hooked up in a fashion that it was easy to move in the vent of a flood.

The plan was put into motion Aug. 27, the morning before Irene hit. Butte said he got a call at about 10 p.m. telling him everything was moved according to the plan. Saturday and Sundays are not normal production days at Richardson.

"The water didn't crest until noon Monday, so we made the decision to stay down Monday," Butte said.

Production resumed about 5 a.m. Tuesday, leaving the plant down only for one day as Canajoharie was spared from severe flood damage.

Mike Zummo is the business editor. He can be reached at



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