Frank Cerabino’s column on how local businesses dealt with the uncertain arrival of Hurricane Dorian.
The slow and menacing approach of Hurricane Dorian left local small business owners with an agonizing choice.
With a Category 5 storm tens of miles to the east, shutting down and shuttering up their businesses during the long Labor Day weekend seemed like the right thing to do. But the forecasters were predicting a turn, a turn that would spare us of hurricane-force winds.
To stay open or to close? To play it safe or to trust the science? To take cover or to take reservations?
I did some Wednesday morning quarterbacking with the business operators along Clematis Street in downtown West Palm Beach about their storm decisions.
For some, Wednesday was the first day of business after days of storm closings. For others, it was the end of a brisk few days of commerce.
"We made the decision to close on Friday morning," said Krystal Campi, the general manager of the Fitness Hub Studios.
That meant canceling as many as 18 classes a day, boarding up, and putting sandbags in front of the front doors to hold off any possible storm surge.
"We were more concerned about the water than the wind," Campi said. "We have a lot of money invested in this place."
The Top Star Hair Salon locked up after the last appointment on Saturday and didn’t open until Wednesday morning.
"It’s like losing a week," the owner Taskin Ayaz said. "Customers started canceling their appointments on Thursday and Friday last week, and today I’m supposed to have 15 appointments, but I only have three."
But Ayaz wasn’t complaining. It could have been worse.
"Thank God, nothing happened," he said.
If you wanted a pizza on Clematis Street on Monday or Tuesday, you would have found that Pizza Girls was closed on both days.
"Labor Day would have been one our busier days," manager George Poole said, predicting that the store’s two-day closing amounted to a 200-pizza loss.
And there wasn’t a pie to be had at Clematis Pizza, which also was closed on Monday or Tuesday.
"We wanted to make sure our employees were going to be OK," manager Boris Campbell said.
But Nico’s Pizza on the corner of Olive Avenue stayed open and did a brisk business.
"This was better for us than it would have been," employee Janet Safran said.
Same thing goes with Rocco’s Tacos, which stayed open during the storm while the popular Duffy’s sports bar across the street closed for two days.
"It was like a ghost town on the street but we were slammed," said hostess Samantha Gama. "We were running nearly an hour wait on Monday night and we had our Taco Tuesday."
There was no telling which business would be open and which one closed.
Keese’s Simply Delicious was going to be open on Monday, but the employees didn’t show up.
The Starbucks closed for two days. So did the MedMen medicinal marijuana shop.
But the vape shop, 420 Ave, stayed open.
"We had a pretty good amount of customers, surprisingly," said manager Christian Romero. "A lot of homeless people buying cigarettes."
The French restaurant, Pistache, wasn’t open for its all-you-can eat mussels night on Monday. Neither was Tapeo, the Spanish restaurant that features a paella special every Monday night.
"That’s usually one of our biggest nights," said Tapeo Tapas Bar and Restaurant owner Carlos Mendez. "And then there’s the expense of taking down the awning and paying somebody to board up."
The Jimmy John’s on Clematis Street stopped making sandwiches at 3 p.m. on Sunday and didn’t open again until the Wednesday lunch hour.
"We didn’t want our staff to be at risk over a $5 sandwich," said general manager Drew Lane.
At Extra Touch Flowers, owner Jerry Supernaw scrambled to keep his plants secure in his greenhouse before closing for the storm.
"When they say Category 5, it scares the hell out of everybody," he said.
At the Te Mana Kava Bar, the staff kept the place open on Monday night, but locked up before its scheduled 2 a.m. closing.
"After 10 o’clock at night, the whole block was dead," bartender John Rivera said.
The life that existed was clustered a few doors away inside O’Shea’s Irish pub.
The pub owner, Maurice Costigan, is well known for preferring to ride out the storm in his bar.
"People expect us to stay open," Costigan said. "People were bored. Everybody was getting cabin fever, going stir crazy."
So they packed his bar and ravaged his comfort food menu, he said.
"I don’t have a burger left in the house," Costigan said. "I’m waiting for a truck delivery today."