Staying open during snowstorm pays off for some area merchants

There's even a customer for a broken shovel

The Snowstorm Of 2003

February 18, 2003|By Meredith Cohn and Stacey Hirsh | Meredith Cohn and Stacey Hirsh,SUN STAFF

A flood of people wrapped in fleece and Gore-Tex, their dogs in tow, came to Movie Time Video in Federal Hill yesterday, where they rented a season's worth of The Sopranos and The Godfather trilogy at a time.

The Kiss Cafe in Canton bustled with customers drinking coffee and playing cards and backgammon.

And at Dundalk's Home Depot, customers scrounged for whatever they could find to battle the mounds of snow left by one of the biggest storms to ever hit Baltimore.

For some businesses that managed to open, the weekend snowstorm was a bonanza.

"People are getting a little cabin fever; they're renting six to eight movies at a time," said Frieda Ulman, Movie Time Video's owner. Ulman rented, restocked and re-rented a good number of her 15,000 movies by herself Sunday and with just one employee yesterday.

"People were telling me that I was saving their marriages," she said. "I don't know about that, but I know in this neighborhood people don't get ready for storms because they figure it isn't really going to happen or they can walk."

The Baltimore metropolitan region normally has a work force of about 1.3 million, but the heavy snow and the Presidents Day holiday meant many workers stayed home, particularly in the car-dependent suburbs.

Some grocery and hardware stores opened their doors and quickly sold out of snow-related items such as shovels and perishables such as milk.

All 190 Giant supermarkets in Baltimore-Washington area were open yesterday, and all are expected to be open today, said Barry Scher, vice president of public affairs for Giant Food Inc.

"The stores have been very busy," Scher said.

He expected the majority of shelves to stay stocked because delivery trucks were making their way yesterday to stores, located mostly on major roads.

The deliveries were not coming fast enough at the Home Depot on Eastern Avenue in Dundalk, where customers resorted to buying gardening shovels when the snow shovels ran out. One group of landscapers that make extra money cleaning snow even wanted to buy a broken shovel from the store, said Troy Rizzo, the store's manager.

"At this point, they'll buy almost any shovel in the building," he said.

The Home Depot, which usually opens at 6 a.m., didn't open yesterday until 12:30 p.m. After an hour, Rizzo estimated, the store had had about 80 customers, most looking for tools with which to battle the snow, such as salt and snow-blowers, although some had braved the weather to shop for other items, such as paint, he said.

Others were finding food and fun wherever they could.

"It's been crazy," said Bridget Holm, a manager of MaGerk's Pub, a restaurant and bar on South Charles Street in Federal Hill. "We're fine on beer, but food we're running out of. We'll keep serving until we run out."

Holm said most employees found places to stay in the neighborhood so they could continue to work throughout the storm.

The Kiss Cafe in Canton extended its hours to accommodate the extra business.

"Normally I close at 6 on Sundays, but we stayed open until 10:30," said the cafe's owner, Victor Ganderson.

Ganderson, who picked up his employees in his Jeep, said the Kiss Cafe has been busier than usual. He and his employees planned to keep the restaurant open late yesterday and then spend the night there.

The Amoco on Orleans Street in East Baltimore was packed 10 deep yesterday around 10 a.m. as residents from Pleasant View Apartments and the Maryland Center for Veterans Education and Training (MCVET) came out in search of everything from toilet paper to salted cashews.

The 24-hour gasoline station and a couple of shops in Old Town Mall were the only stores in that area open for business.

"I'll take four packs of cigarettes and two of those peach ring bags," said Eric Williams, 46, a Navy veteran staying at MCVET on North High Street, a transitional housing program for homeless veterans. "I'm buying for four guys. They don't want to fight the snow so they sent me to the store. I'm keeping the change."

Army veteran Andrew Marcus memorized a shopping list for seven.

"Two bags of sour cream and onion, one bag of Frito's, an oatmeal raisin cream and a pack of Newports. ... This isn't going to last long," Marcus, 42, shouted through the glass to cashier Manzoor Ahmad, who had been manning the shop since midnight. "Nothing else is open."

"It's been busy," said Ahmad, who was waiting for the next cashier to relieve him. "A lot of people from the neighborhood have come to buy things. We're open 24 hours so we've been here since the storm started."

Cindy Chen, manager of Fortune Szechuan Restaurant in Mount Vernon, figured she ought to open up to feed her neighbors even though she got no deliveries.

"It's pretty busy with people walking in, sometimes calling first to make sure we're open," said Chen, who lives upstairs from her Charles Street restaurant. "It's even busier than on the weekends. ... We're the only place around here open. Not even the convenience store is open. We have enough food, so we're happy to do it for the neighbors around here."

Staff writer Dan Thanh Dang contributed to this article.

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