Businesses Work to Reopen After Storm

Bread, milk and gas were hot commodities; hotel rooms were filled; and nary a plow driver got more than a few winks of sleep.

It was a busy few days in Loudoun for local businesses, who at times struggled to keep up with the pre-blizzard pandemonium, as well as its grueling aftermath. The historic storm dumped upwards of 3 feet of snow in parts of the county and, by mid-week, many were still in the process of digging out.

Matt Coughlin, of Blake Landscapes, was one of them. He spent the majority of his weekend out in the cold, helping to abate the large snow drifts and impassable streets.

“It’s been a rough few days,” he said wearily Monday during a rare break. “What we’ve found is a truck with a plow on it is just not enough for this amount of snow.”

Like many others, Coughlin didn’t get much sleep in the early hours of the storm. From pre-storm Friday morning to Saturday night he reported only getting about two hours of sleep.

He has had to wait to get into some private streets his company is contracted to clear with until the nearby primary roads are plowed, something which has slowed the work he and other plow operators are able to do. He said he believes it will take until the weekend to get all streets passable.

Although by Monday morning, with cabin fever in full effect, some residents’ patience was beginning to wear thin, Coughlin said he and others witnessed many acts of kindness from residents showing appreciation for those who took the time to try to plow them out.

In one such instance, Coughlin said a company truck was stuck on a ramp from River Creek Parkway to Rt. 7 in Leesburg and Coughlin was asked to go pull out the truck.

“I thought ‘there’s no way to get down that ramp without getting stuck.’ Then this guy on a backhoe just appeared and went to work on clearing the way to the ramp,” he said.

While the post-storm cleanup has had its share of headaches for businesses, for many it was the days leading up to the storm that created the most chaos.

Rick Barton, assistant manager of Nichols Hardware Store in Purcellville, said shovels, ice melt, flashlights and batteries were flying off the shelves last week. He estimated that between shipments that arrived Thursday and Friday the store sold 100 shovels.

“It was nonstop from the time we opened until when we had to close early on Friday,” he said.

The store reopened Monday, with Barton “one of the lucky ones” whose neighborhood had been plowed and able to report to work.

Danny Percival is also one of the lucky ones. A cashier at the Leesburg Shell gas station on Plaza Street, he too managed to make it to work Monday, given the luxury of a four-minute walk to his job. The station on Monday was being run solely by cashiers with the manager, assistant manager and entire garage crew still snowed in.

Percival reported that the station ran out of gas for a brief time Thursday evening ahead of the storm, but the tanks were replenished in time for the start of his shift Friday as harried drivers scrambled to have a full tank of gas before the first snowflake fell.

The station and its convenience store reopened Sunday, but the opening of Shell’s garage will have to wait until its crew digs out.

Akwasi Agyemang, assistant store manager at Fresh Market in One Loudoun, said business at the grocery store mid-week last week leading up to the storm rivaled its typical take on weekends. On Monday, about 75 percent of the store’s employees were still stuck at home, with those able to come to the store working extended shifts to make up for the deficit.

SpringHill Suites Front Desk Supervisor Alan Cole has literally been on the clock this week for as long as many plow drivers. The hotel, located near Ashburn’s George Washington University campus, was home for many hotel employees, including Cole, throughout the stormy weekend. Cole has been staying at the hotel since Friday and planned to stay for one more night Monday in anticipation of his street being plowed. Around a dozen employees stayed at the hotel throughout the weekend, some even bringing their children to keep their family together during the blizzard.

In addition to hotel employees, the hotel was buzzing with many local companies’ essential employees who were given hotel rooms in order to better access their jobs. With many of the companies sending employees operating around the clock, Cole said the hotel lobby was constantly buzzing with activity, even in the middle of the night.

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