For a period of 57 days from mid-November to early January, the city of Langley experienced approximately 162 hours of electricity outage due to weather-related damage to the transmission and distribution systems on Whidbey Island.
While weather-related outages occur just about every winter, this series of outages was particularly difficult for Langley residents and businesses.
For Langley merchants, the two longest outages occurred between Thanksgiving and Christmas; the holiday shopping season when many businesses experience high sales volumes that help them through the slower months of January through March.
These tough times brought out the creativity and cooperation of members of the Langley business community. Here are a few of their stories:
David and Kim Tiller, owners of the Whidbey Soap Company, were in a state of shock: The weekend before Christmas and no power! What could they do?
They had been preparing for weeks for their biggest retail time of the year, and this was their first year in the new retail shop on First Street. The store was beautifully decorated and filled with wonderful gifts.
They decided they just could not close up and go home.
They lit small candles all about the shop and placed several large apothecary jars with lighted candles in the front display window and on the table at the front deck so that passersby would know that they were open for business. With no power, their computer was useless, so they dusted off the mechanical credit card embosser, dug out the paper credit card slips, grabbed a pen and prepared to start processing sales the old-fashioned way.
They heated hot water on the wood stove before leaving their house so they could offer a cup of hot tea to the chilled customers. Everyone was in good spirits. However, on the third day of the outage, pioneer life was losing its luster. Kim Tiller was ready to shut down, but as she struck a match to light a candle, the power came back on.
“Though sales were not nearly what we had hoped for during the weekend of the power outage, by the following weekend when everything was back to normal, our sales were spectacular,” she said.
When the power went out, Langley’s Country Cottage owner, Jacki Stewart, realized she had a very valuable commodity to share: hot water. Stewart opened several of her popular Sixth Street cottages that are heated with gas to locals in need of a hot shower. Being a creative lady, she went even one step further. After people showered and warmed up, they had no way to get dry hair. So a plan was hatched to have neighbors, or Island Transit, take those in need to the Clinton ferry with hair dryers in hand.
They walked on the ferry (no charge) and plugged a the blow dryer and emerged in Mukilteo perfectly coiffed. Then for the walk-on fee of $3.85, they were back in Clinton to catch the bus back to Langley. As one satisfied customer remarked: “A small price to pay for a hot shower and a cruise. What a bargain!”
Chef’s Pantry and Langley Clock Shop
When the power went out on the day of the Grand Opening of the Chef’s Pantry last year, owners Bob and Donna Leahy realized they might need a back-up plan to keep their fresh cheeses and cured meats from spoiling.
“We spent our first day open in the dark, packing our cold cases with dry ice and wondering what we had gotten ourselves into,” Bob Leahy recalled. It was “déjà vu all over again” this fall when the lights began to flicker.
“We had just started packing our cases for the upcoming holiday season, including bringing in some fairly expensive perishable items like caviar and fresh truffles,” said chef/owner Donna Leahy.
This time, neighbors Herb and Marilyn of the Langley Clock Shop offered the Leahys shared use of their generator to keep their refrigerator and freezer running.
The Leahys credit their Langley neighbors for keeping their business afloat in a difficult time.
“They saved us from losing some very costly items,” said Bob Leahy. “Basically I just had to make sure the generator was fueled up and Herb took care of keeping things running. With all of the power outages, we got to be pretty efficient at hooking everything up.”
The Leahys credit the Langley community for supporting their efforts in their first year. “So many people want to see us succeed — we feel very grateful,” he said.
Act II Books
While the streets of Langley may have looked relatively deserted some days this winter, Act II Books and Puppets was hard at work filling its online customer orders. Owners Richard and Tess Guenther, have had a storefront business in Langley for only a year, but their online store (kidsbooksandpuppets.com) has been operating for 12 years.
Six days of sales were lost at the physical store this winter, with many other days affected by short power outages, but the couple stayed busy filling their online orders for Folkmanis puppets, children’s books and kid’s costume hats.
The dilemma was how to fill these online orders. Without power at the store, they could not check for orders, and the software for getting postage rates and making labels was only on the store computers. They did have a generator at home, so work got split between the two locations. The home computers were reconfigured to access the Internet.
They checked their orders at home, and whenever the power came up, even for 10 minutes, they raced to the store to print their invoices and labels. At times, the Langley Post Office was also without power, so they had to run up the highway to the Freeland Post Office.
During daylight hours, they would return to their darkened store to pull stock and package merchandise. Some days when the power was out, the temperature in the store was a frigid 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and the self-adhesive tape on boxes did not stick. They quickly trained themselves to package and label the products whenever the power came back on, just in case the power went off again. One day, when icy roads and downed trees made getting into Langley difficult for a UPS driver, he called Richard and waited for him in Freeland to make the
Act II delivery.
There were a few rough spots meeting customer needs online. Some got late responses to e-mail questions; a few packages could not be shipped quite as fast as asked. But the Guenthers report that most everybody was very understanding when they learned what had happened. Richard Guenther feels they have learned a lot from their experiences: “We learned how to deal with the power outages, the need to backup files more frequently, make simpler setups to reconfigure the computers, but most of all to buy another small generator for next winter in Langley.”
Fish Bowl Restaurant
Maureen Cooke, owner of the Fish Bowl Restaurant, could prepare dinners for her customers and decided to keep the restaurant open with candles on the tables. The restaurant was lit just by candlelight on Saturday, Jan. 8, and again on Tuesday night, Jan. 9.
On Saturday night the power was restored at about 7:30 p.m. A couple at one of the tables started to turn on the little lamp at their table, then stopped and commented to the waitress: “Nah, we like it better here by candlelight.”