Week without phones has businesses feeling disconnected from life About 300 customers left without service after tree falls

November 15, 1997|By Jay Apperson | Jay Apperson,SUN STAFF

Stationed behind a computer yesterday in her Owings Mills office, Lois Stern waited for a dead telephone to ring. Just as she had on Monday. Just as she had on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.

"This silence!" she said, cursing the telephone outage that hobbled her talent booking agency -- and left phone service in turmoil for a large section of Owings Mills for most of the week. "I've got people who have called me at home and said, 'Are you out of business?' "

The outage, which started Sunday morning when a falling tree brought down a phone line on Reisterstown Road, affected about 300 commercial and residential customers -- and, according to a Bell Atlantic spokeswoman, affected them far longer than anyone had expected.

Because the tree caused the line to break in several places, about 1,000 feet of cable had to be replaced, said Sandra Arnette, a phone company spokeswoman. She said workers also had to painstakingly put 1,200 pairs of wires together.

Yesterday, telephone linemen in cherry pickers worked in the rain to repair wires for the more than 30 customers still without service. A lineman described the process: "It's a one-at-a-time thing."

Many business owners, who equate the bleat of a phone to a cash register's ring, were angry about the delays in restoring service. Larry Bridge, co-owner of Larmar Video Productions, assumed potential customers who could not get through consulted the Yellow Pages and called one of his competitors.

"We lost revenue. Real simple ballgame," he said.

Charles Patterson, owner of the Ten Mile House tavern on Reisterstown Road, complained that phone company officials originally told him service would be restored by Monday night. When it wasn't -- meaning his alarm system would not function -- he pushed two tables together and slept in his bar.

Patterson complained that his lunch business fell off 40 percent for most of the week because neighboring workers could not call in takeout orders. His phone service was restored Thursday afternoon. Yesterday, his staff was taking phone orders for turkey on rye and vegetable soup.

He said angrily that the phone company might serve customers better if it were not a monopoly.

"If you can't give us service in four days," he said, "let's have competition."

At a Cellular One office on Reisterstown Road, the outage meant employees could not send information by fax or submit credit card charges, said account manager Brent Knipp. But they used a rented cell phone to conduct business.

Lenny's Delicatessen was without phone service on Sunday, and Blockbuster video went without phones until Thursday. Migliara/-Kaplan Associates, a consulting firm for health and drug companies, and Allstate Leasing also were affected.

A spokeswoman for McDonogh School said phone problems affected computer labs; a caller to the school's main number heard an endless ring yesterday.

The spokeswoman was unable to say whether the phone company would compensate business owners for financial loss caused by the outage.

Taking Lois Stern's telephone is like taking a carpenter's hammer or a chef's spatula. Her company, Baltimore Entertainment Connection, books bands, magicians and other entertainers for weddings and parties. Her phone is her livelihood.

After nearly a work week of making do with her cell phone -- and, she said, running up a month's worth of charges on it -- she regained her lifeline to the outside world.

At 1:49 p.m. yesterday, her phone rang.

"You're our first phone call. Wow," she said. Later, she checked different lines in the office and announced: "Rollover. We have rollover."

But her happiness was tempered by memories of a difficult week.

"I'm really happy it's back on, but I want to know how I'm going to be compensated for losing business for a whole week," she said. "Not just for a day or two, but for a whole week."

Pub Date: 11/15/97

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