Businesses hurting — and helping — as the power remains out

As a much-loved grocery store in Dunrobin faces an uncertain future after being hit by a tornado, grocers and restaurants in the region are facing similar challenges — and also offering to lend a hand.

Grocery stores, restaurants, breweries trying to figure out how to cope

Dunrobin Meat and Grocery was hit by a tornado on Friday, Sept. 21. Employees were forced to seek cover in a walk-in beer fridge until the twister passed, said co-owner Michael Fines. (submitted )

As a well-known Dunrobin grocery store faces a lengthy rebuild after being hit by a tornado Friday, other local grocers and restaurants are facing similar challenges — and also offering to lend a hand.

"Everyone looks after each other and tries to help other people. That's what happened here," said Michael Fines, co-owner of Dunrobin Meat and Grocery on the rural Ottawa community's main drag. 

Fines was inside his store when one of a pair of tornadoes roared through Friday, trapping him and five others inside a walk-in beer fridge.

No one in the store was injured.

Watch dashcam video from the Dunrobin Meat and Grocery parking lot as the tornado struck:

Now, with part of the roof caved in, windows blown out and gas lines cut, Fines said Sunday the mall is pretty much a write-off.

He expects, however, that the family-owned store, known as a hub in the community, will eventually be rebuilt and back in operation.

"It should take about six months to get up and going, so it's going to take people a while and time to adjust to get back to normal ways," said Fines outside West Carleton High School, one of a pair of temporary shelters in the city.

Rainbow Foods is one of several grocery stores that have lost perishable food during the power outage. (CBC)

Warming fridges

Several food stores and restaurants were closed all weekend due to widespread power outages caused by the tornadoes.

Some larger grocery chains were able to bring in large refrigerated trucks or ship produce to other stores with electricity, but most stores are still facing big losses.

Outside Sarah Kaplan's store in Ottawa's west end, the refrigerated trailer isn't big enough to hold all the perishables sitting inside her silent, warming fridges.

"We've tried to contact the food bank, but they're closed right now so we will have to write quite a few things off," said Kaplan, who runs Rainbow Foods on Richmond Road.

Eggs and organic fruit and vegetables will only be good for another day or so, according to Kaplan. She estimated she's already lost about $10,000, with that figure only rising as the power remains out.

"That's a hard hit for small businesses," Kaplan said.

"We rely on our day-to-day sales so anything that we lose [hurts]. We do have payroll every two weeks. We have our expenses. We have to purchase all-new product in our freezers and coolers."

Michael Maidment, executive director of the Ottawa Food Bank, says as many as 11 local food banks could lose all of their perishable goods. (Jean Delisle/CBC)

Food banks losing food too

As many as 11 local food banks will also lose all their perishable food, according to Michael Maidment, executive director of the Ottawa Food Bank.

Maidment said the centres are being contacted by restaurants and grocery stores offering food, and while they welcome the donations, it'll be difficult to accept perishable items until they get power back themselves.

The extra demand only makes things worse, he added.

"Despite a tornado and the disaster and power outage we're dealing with, we have 38,000 people who depend on the food bank," Maidment said.

"So we're planning for a regular work week and moving all that food out into the community — and now we're also planning to replace the food that's been spoiled and provide extra food to people who'll need it in the coming days."

The food bank is looking for cash donations.

Brewery owner Nick Pruiksma is offering to provide water to his neighbours in Dunrobin who've had no power and no well water since Friday's storm. (submitted)

Turning on the taps

Meanwhile, one Almonte brewery is loading up its kegs with water instead of beer as part of the relief effort.

Crooked Mile Brewing Company owner Nick Pruiksma lives in Dunrobin, just 500 metres from homes that were destroyed the Friday tornado.

His family home was undamaged, so he's offering to provide kegs filled with water to help out neighbours who have wells that don't work without electricity.

"I have a lot of empty kegs sitting around waiting to be filled up with beer. I can fill them with water in the meantime," said Pruiksma. 

"I've filled up two 50-litre kegs with water. I'll keep filling up more if people need it."


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