Businesses Continue To Feel Storm Chill

Dec 1, 2011

Connecticut’s small businesses may not yet have seen the full impact of the state’s two disastrous storms. That was testimony given to the Governor’s Two Storm Panel, which heard Wednesday from business owners and representatives. WNPR’s Harriet Jones reports.

Representatives of the gasoline and retail industries gave evidence before this meeting of the storm panel, talking about the experiences of businesses during two lengthy power outages just weeks apart.  Not all of the testimony was negative. Tim Phelan of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association says for those stores that kept power or had generators, the storm was a boon.

“If you sold products that people needed or wanted, you saw no drop off during the storms, and in some cases you might even have seen a spike in business. We spoke to one member in the Greater Hartford region who said that the storm resulted in the best business he’s ever seen.”

But, he cautioned the panel, that was far from the typical experience for most small retailers.

“If you were a retailer that lost power in your store and you and your employees and your customers all lost power, the results of the storm were devastating.”

One of those businesses without power was Lux Bond and Green jewelers. Co-owner Mark Green.

“My own business in the eight days that we were without power was off 42 percent.”

The holiday season is an important one for his business, and Green says the effect of consumers’ additional spending on generators, hotel stays and other storm necessities in recent months has yet to be fully felt.

“As the bill come out here in December, people are going to look at those bills that they get from their credit card companies, whatever, and go oh, my discretionary income is not going to be what it could have been if we did not have the storm, and a lot of the effects that we’ll see from this storm will be many months coming down the road.”

The panel has been mulling the effect of widespread power outages at gas stations in the storm affected areas, leading to shortages and long lines at stations that were open. It’s been suggested that the state might mandate that gas station owners install generators on site so that they can remain open during power outages. Michael Fox of the Gasoline Automotive Service Dealers of America says that would cost small operators about 40 thousand dollars each.

“It appears to me that what we’re doing is taking the usual legislative approach of reacting to a problem, not resolving the problem, and pushing a legislative mandate back on business owners.”

He suggested a blanket mandate on generators at gas stations is an overreaction, when the onus should be on the utility providers to improve their reliability and storm response.

“Putting generators at every single solitary service station fixes nothing.”

Fox told the panel a better way to go might be to pick specific areas of the state where generators make most sense, and help businesses pay for the expense through the gross receipts tax on gasoline. He was challenged by the panel to come up with a plan by the time it makes its recommendations to the governor in a month’s time.

For WNPR, I'm Harriet Jones.