Restaurants across the region reported losing as much as $60,000 worth of food. Most of the Reston Town Center lost power for days. Meanwhile, hotels and movie theaters saw a boom in business.
The “derecho” thunderstorms that swept through the region on June 29 were some of the most destructive storms in recent history, causing deaths, uprooting trees and leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power.
Industry and government officials say it may be a while before they assess the economic damage, but some worry that the storms exposed a weakness in the area’s infrastructure — one that could discourage businesses from coming to the region.
“What is most worrisome is, is there a perception that this area is prone to power outages?” said Steve Silverman, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development. “And will that result in businesses wanting to go somewhere else?”
Other industry officials shrugged off the impact, noting that businesses were far more likely to have backup generators and power than homeowners. For many Washingtonians, the office proved to be an air-conditioned haven from sweltering homes that smelled of rotten food.
“This was different from a snowstorm or a blackout in that it was not a big hit for office businesses,” said James Dinegar, president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “The bigger businesses in the area — defense contractors, accounting firms, banks — had emergency plans and generators for their facilities.”
Indeed, while Giant Food saw 70 of its 173 area stores lose power, all remained open thanks to generators, spokesman Jamie Miller said.
“We were certainly affected by the storm, as everyone in the mid-Atlantic region was,” Miller said. “The vast majority of our stores came back up late Saturday [June 30], but a few were without power into” July 3 and 4.
As Giant stores came back online, the company even donated extra generators to a senior center in Arlington County and a police station in Prince George’s County.
Smaller groceries weren’t as fortunate. Kirsch says he is still assessing the damage at Chevy Chase Supermarket — the store was without power between June 29 and July 4 — but says he expects losses of more than $100,000.
“We lost five days of business and had to throw out almost everything in the store,” he said.
Likewise, the Ben & Jerry’s in Reston Town Center had received a shipment of ice cream just hours before power went out. By the time electricity returned three days later, the store had lost about half of its ice cream — the rest had been salvaged with dry ice and stored at a Ben & Jerry’s in Fairfax.
“Most of the Reston Town Center lost power,” said Mark Ingrao, chief executive of the Greater Reston Chamber of Commerce. “All of the offices within the core were pretty much out of business, and unfortunately there was no back-up generator. I talked to a number of restaurants that said they lost between $40,000 and $60,000 of food during that time.”
The storm wasn’t bad for every business.
The Holiday Inn Express in Fairfax lost power almost immediately after the storm hit. Some people checked out, but many stayed, according to general manager Vanessa McManus.
Electricity returned the evening of June 30. By the next day, the hotel’s 79 rooms were sold out, on what was supposed to be a slow day. “It picked up way more than we had ever seen,” McManus said.
In the region, 90 percent of hotel rooms were filled on the night of June 30, a 19 percent increase from the year before, according to data from Smith Travel Research.
Without power at home, many flocked to malls to stay cool and charge their cellphones and laptops.
“We were slammed the entire weekend,” said Tod Jerscheid, director of mall marketing at the Fashion Centre of Pentagon City. “It was just continuously busy, especially at the food court.”
At the Diner, a 24-hour restaurant in Adams Morgan, people began streaming in at 8 a.m. June 30. “We usually don’t get going until 9 or 10 on Saturdays, but it was clear that the people coming in had lost power,” said Clementine Thomas, general manager. “They were hungry and couldn’t make food at home.”
The Regal Ballston Commons movie theater didn’t have power on June 30, either. But when it reopened the next day, five or six shows, including “Ted,” “Magic Mike” and “The Amazing Spider-Man” all sold out.
“We were hit pretty hard,” said Alma Velasquez, associate manager at the theater. “It’s just not something that’s normal on a Sunday — on Friday night or Saturday, maybe, but not Sunday. We could tell it was because of the storm.”