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New round of power shutoffs force Nevada City businesses to adjust

John Orona
Staff Writer

Nevada County officials still anticipate a weather “all-clear” to occur around 4 a.m. Wednesday, with PG&E workers inspecting power lines and restoring electricity to homes and businesses in the hours that follow.

Western Nevada County has experienced three Public Safety Public Shutoffs in a week, the most recent starting Tuesday. It’s expected PG&E workers will begin examining power lines for possible damage once the “all-clear” is given, and then begin restoring power. However, they will wait for daylight until inspections can begin.

“We’re certainly living in extraordinary times here in California,” said Bill Johnson, CEO and president of PG&E, at a Tuesday briefing. “We want the shutoff to end as badly as anybody.”

Some 435,000 PG&E customers had no power around 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, with over 43,000 of them in Nevada County.

PG&E indicated Tuesday evening that another wind event — a large reason for the power shutoffs — isn’t expected over the next seven to 10 days. However, neither is rain.

Nevada City Business District

With regular power shutoffs becoming the new reality for businesses in downtown Nevada City, those still open have had to adapt and improvise to stay afloat. Most businesses have had to adjust their operating hours and staffing levels to meet the unpredictable demands the shutoffs can bring.

According to Genevieve Crouzet, who has owned the Nevada City Classic Cafe with her husband Kirk Valentine for 15 years, business can boom being one of the few shops open on some days, but other days people seem to prefer to stay home.

“Overall people are appreciative that we’re open,” Crouzet said. “When we’re the only ones open it gives us a chance for people to discover the place.”

The prospects of continued power shutoffs forced her to upgrade her generator, doubling the size so it can power all the appliances her cafe needs to operate. The generator she had during the first shutoff only allowed her to keep her refrigerator and freezer running, meaning she had no coffee machine, soda dispenser, toaster or cash register.

The staff at Bel Capelli Salon & Spa are facing similar problems, as their small generator only powers a few clippers, a wax pot and one blow dryer for 14 employees. The salon warns its customers that while they can cut and color, they’re unable to style or dry, leaving some patrons walking out with wet hair, but still with a smile.

“People still want to come and get their hair done,” owner Kellie Stoeckle said. “Everybody so far in my experience has been appreciative that we’ve been able to open and we’ve had nobody be upset or angry. They’re just happy that we’re still here and doing the best we can. It’s been really nice hearing the support from our customers.”

Stoeckle said while the salon is still able to satisfy most customers, she plans on buying a bigger generator since lighting has been an issue, leading some employees to don head lamps while giving pedicures. She said that was just one example of how her staff has had to remain flexible to deal with the situation.

“The shutoff also just compacts our schedule since everyone here is fully booked quite a few days out,” Stoeckle said. “We just have to come in extra days when the power is on, or come early or stay late, it just kind of piles up.”


Not every business owner has been able to maintain its customer base, however. According to Kim Coughlan, who has owned Novak’s Menswear with her sister Laura for more than 15 years, their store only ever closes three days a year but has lost a week of business already due to the shutoffs.

“We’ve tried to stay open but no one is in town,” Coughlan said. “We even had our weekend girl here on Sunday and there was just nobody around, so it’s really not even worth it for us to be in here.”

According to Coughlan, she can’t justify staying open with the business she’s getting and feels the only way to survive going forward is by banding together with other local businesses.

“Unfortunately we’re paying for 30 years worth of mismanagement from PG&E,” Coughlan said. “We’re all in it together and we gotta work towards something. We need to help each other, if we don’t all do something together we won’t be effective.”

Laura Parker, owner of the clothing store and costume shop Solstice, agrees with Coughlan and started the Facebook page Nevada City Business Network to connect area business owners and share vital information after the power shutoffs cut into the most important time of year for her business.

“This is terrible because Halloween is like our Christmas rush, it’s like being closed on Black Friday,” Parker said. “I didn’t plan for this in February when I placed my orders, but next year I’ll plan for it and I think it will be better because people will be more used to it and know that we’re open, even when the power is off.”

After the first day of the first shutoff, Parker spent thousands of dollars to rewire her business to enable it to hook up to a generator and still spends time each morning and night to set up the makeshift solution.

She said her business is seeing about a fifth of her usual customers and hopes the Facebook page will help publicize businesses that are still open during power shutoffs and bring the business community together to create long-term solutions.

“The more of us that are open, the more we could network, the more people would know that we’re still open and draw even more people,” Parker said. “I feel like we all need to get together to come up with something for downtown Nevada City — we need to get on the ball and start getting all the merchants together.”

To contact Staff Writer John Orona, email jorona@theunion.com or call 530-477-4229.

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