Power outage generates a dim day for business for downtown merchants

Underground utility fire disrupts a usually busy start of the workweek for many

Underground Fire In City

September 21, 2004|By Reginald Fields | Reginald Fields,SUN STAFF

Dino Xanthopoulos tried to stay busy yesterday at the Hollywood Diner doing everything from sweeping to cleaning to hanging pictures on the wall. It just wasn't he wanted to be doing: preparing meals.

The restaurant was one of dozens of restaurants and businesses affected by a widespread downtown power outage that made life anything but typical for people who work and live there.

"I've just been hanging up a few pictures of stars and doing some cleaning," said a downtrodden Xanthopoulos, who manages the diner, as he lurked inside the normally bright, neon-lit restaurant made famous by two movies.

"I've got Marilyn Monroe, Marvin Gaye and a few others on the wall now," said Xanthopoulos, who sent all his employees home about 11 a.m. "That's about all I could accomplish today."

April Kim, co-owner of Impressions Cafe on Lexington Street, boiled water in a mixer bowl on a portable propane gas stove to make coffee.

On a brilliantly sunny day, with light beaming through the windows and front doors propped open, Kim sold coffee and muffins, but there weren't nearly as many customers as usual.

The power outage, blamed on an underground utility cable fire that started in the early hours of yesterday, was a disruption from the start of the business day. Even as commuters poured into the area for work, something was obviously amiss.

Traffic lights were out. Favorite morning breakfast spots were closed. And parking garages, with their mechanical arms removed or locked in an up position, were left open and unattended.

Both sides of the busy city courthouse were closed, and people with business there were turned away at its steps by security guards.

The normally busy Calvert Street corridor looked more like it does on a Sunday afternoon rather than Monday. Detours around spots where crews worked to restore power made normally high vehicle traffic streets into pedestrian walkways.

City trucks with generators resting on their trailer beds had restored power to some area businesses by mid-afternoon, but by then the day was a loss.

Workers had long been sent home, and the only people who were left were those who had no idea there was a problem until they got there.

"I just wanted to go to the bank and get some money out, but it's closed," said Sherrell Smith, walking from Provident Bank at Calvert and Lexington streets.

"I just wanted Subway," said Tiffany Smith, who was with Sherrell Smith. The two women, who are not related, said they had a day off from work and had come downtown yesterday to job hunt.

"We were going to put a bunch of applications in, but everywhere we went was closed," said Tiffany Smith. "I don't even know what happened."

Across the street, Carmine Lamberti and another employee from the city's street lighting department were screwing 1,000-watt bulbs into commercial lamps running off generators.

"We're putting the lights up because there probably won't be any street lights around here tonight," said Lamberti, pointing down Calvert and Fayette Streets where the four lamps would be pointed.

Many people who arrived at work left eager to enjoy a day off, while business owners prepared to make money another day. But George Alevrogiannis, who owns the 24-hour Crazy Johns restaurant amid the strip joints on Baltimore Street, hadn't quite given up.

Alevrogiannis bought more than 700 pounds of dry ice yesterday morning and didn't immediately send home his afternoon work crew. He was hoping to reopen by last night when the clubs are busiest.

"I'm doing $4,000 to $5,000 a day in profits that I'm missing plus all these people here who work for me. I've got to pay them for being here," Alevrogiannis said.

"But who knows, maybe by tonight power will be back and people will be hungry," he said.

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