Damage and Delays: One Chain's Hurricane Experience [Audio]

Damage and Delays: One Chain's Hurricane Experience [Audio]

George Zoitas, CEO of NYC grocery chain Westside Market, describes the damage Hurricane Sandy wrought upon his stores. Listen to the audio narratives below.

When Hurricane Sandy hit New York City and New Jersey the night of Monday, Oct. 29, many grocery stores, such as the family-owned Westside Market in Manhattan, experienced damage, delivery delays and disrupted operations throughout the week, at least, due to severe flooding and power outages.

The Zoitas family owns four Westside Market stores in Manhattan and Maywood’s Marketplace in Maywood, N.J. Chief Executive Officer George Zoitas talked to SN on site at his Chelsea store about the superstorm’s toll on that particular store and the one in Maywood.

Westside Market, Chelsea, NYC

Listen to George Zoitas describe the process of emptying out the Chelsea store’s perishables and returning the store’s services and supplies. (See the transcript on the next page.)
George Zoitas, CEO, Westside Market

The electric company Consolidated Edison’s substation on 14th Street on the east side of Manhattan exploded, taking out power for most of Manhattan below 39th Street until the following weekend. Westside Market’s Chelsea store, located at 14th Street and 7th Avenue, offers vast amounts of hot and cold prepared foods and gourmet cheeses, so the power outage forced Zoitas to dispose of all dairy and perishables. The market regained power sometime between Friday night or Saturday morning when most of the neighborhood's lights came back on.

The other three Westside Market stores, all on the Upper West Side, maintained regular hours — open 24/7 — throughout the week, despite challenges in getting employees to the stores.

Maywood’s Marketplace, Maywood, N.J.

Listen to George Zoitas discuss the Maywood store’s damage and being prepared for future storms. (See the transcript on the next page.)

Hurricane Sandy took out Zoitas’ Maywood, N.J., store for five days. Even after the store reopened, repairs were still being made to structural damage. In an area that loses power “more often than not,” said Zoitas, the N.J. store is vulnerable to future power outages. Zoitas told SN that he’s looking into generators to protect the perishables the next time a storm strikes.

Transcript: How Two Stores Recovered

Westside Market, Chelsea, NYC

“George Zoitas, CEO of Westside Market:

We have four stores in the city. Chelsea, 14th and 7th Avenue, went offline at 9:00 on Monday night — whenever that explosion happened. All the lights in the other stores were flickering. That’s when I started to get worried — if we lose all the stores it’s going to be chaos.

Downtown was a problem because they were telling us ahead of time that it wasn’t going to be back online until Friday. We had to send and hire emergency people to come and clear everything out before it started stinking up, so there’s no smell in the store. We cleared out the whole entire store from all the perishables.

We lost the food. We were trying to hold it here, but you can’t — all prepared food, over four hours, you have to throw it out. We weren’t able to salvage anything.

We got power Friday night, I think it was. We got the store up and running in less than a day.

There were some compressors that went down. We didn’t have anything to refrigerate anyways. We opened just for groceries and whatever we had to offer as far as dry goods. We got some bread deliveries that we were able to sell. But dairy products and all of that nature was coming in really slowly. A lot of people didn’t want to come downtown because there were no traffic lights. They viewed it as a hazard, so a lot of companies were giving a hard time for delivering, just for like a day or two. Then, we got it back online pretty quick.

We definitely had a lot more scratched items than usual. There were definitely some items we couldn’t get our hands on. Just quantities not so much product. Quantities were minimum. Everybody was trying to order at the same time as soon as they got power.

But we’re still not fully stocked.

It was like starting all over again, literally. When you have to mobilize to open up a new store, it was the same way. You leave the perishables for last. Just get everybody to the departments and just start small. We get overwhelmed if you try to fill it up in one day. We did a great job putting it back together.

It was a hurdle, but it felt good. It felt like a good accomplishment after we were done.”

Maywood’s Marketplace, Maywood, N.J.

“We lost the New Jersey location, too. That was up and running five days after.

Jersey had some structural damage, some floods, other minor — on the roof. It was a vicious storm there. We had to quickly fix the roof. There was a lot of floor damage. We’re taking care of that. People understand. Nothing’s wrong with the store. It’s up and running. We’re slowly repairing everything.

We’re thinking about generators: where can I store it, should I get one, should I not? Is this going to be an ongoing thing? You want to be prepared next time. When you’re throwing stuff out, it’s an awful feeling. You just feel bad. You just want to give it to people, but you can’t because of an insurance problem or whatever it is. You don’t want it to happen again. We’re looking into a generator that works off the gas line, this way that kicks in. It’s inevitable it’s going to happen again.”