Some merchants get power, others get anxious

Frank Laguda checks the inventory at Laguda Formal Wear in Ambler by the light of a battery-powered lantern.
Frank Laguda checks the inventory at Laguda Formal Wear in Ambler by the light of a battery-powered lantern. (RON TARVER / Staff Photographer)
Posted: February 08, 2014

With dozens of lamps glowing brightly, the lighting store in Ambler seemed almost to be taunting its neighbors.

Across the street, members of the Laguda family bundled up and worked by flashlight in their tuxedo shop to finish orders for weekend weddings.

"It's a little tough with no power," said Tony Laguda Jr., 36, wearing a thick winter coat in the darkened salesroom of the store his late father established 40 years ago.

A day after the ice storm, Mother Nature, fate's fickleness, and Peco's response stirred one of two responses from small merchants across the region: frustration or gratitude.

Storm damage and power outages take a bigger toll on smaller businesses, said Wendy Klinghoffer, executive director of the Eastern Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce. She said she had talked to 15 to 20 merchants in recent days about the impact.

"It's really been pretty across-the-board devastating for small business," Klinghoffer said. "Obviously, the winter months are usually slow to begin with. But when the business is forced to close, that makes it 10 times worse."

Butler Avenue in downtown Ambler was a patchwork. Some businesses had no electricity and were closed. Others had power and opened.

The lighting store, Denney Electric Supply, lost power about 9:45 a.m. Wednesday but regained it that night.

On Thursday, it wasn't just powered up. All its lamps and chandeliers were aglow.

Sales clerks Joan Konopka, 55, and Katie Murdoch, 23, said they did not know why their employer was lucky while others were not. And they were split on whether they felt guilty or gaudy for shining so brightly.

"I kind of feel bad," said Murdoch.

"I don't," said Konopka, who added that such are the breaks of running a business.

At Laguda Formal Wear, brothers Tony Jr. and Frank Laguda and their 65-year-old mother, Caterina, opened despite having no power.

"Who would suspect anything like this?" said Caterina Laguda.

She raised her gloved hands and shook them in half-joking frustration at the shop with the lights blazing across the street.

"When you look over there, it's like, 'Really?' " she said.

Frank Laguda said he also wondered, "How the heck do they have power?"

The five days their shop lost electricity after Hurricane Sandy was fresh in their minds when the Lagudas heard forecasts of this week's ice storm. They prepared by getting orders ready as early as possible this week.

A battery-powered lantern hanging on a clothes hook threw a dim light on the work table where the family did most of the remaining tasks - hand-stitching where they could, folding colorful handkerchiefs and putting them in jacket pockets, and making sure buttons were sewn on tight.

Dave Emery, 64, came to pick up a tux for his son's wedding. As Emery tried on the slacks, Frank Laguda fetched the lantern from the back room and gave it to Emery to use as light in the dressing room.

Caterina Laguda had to adjust one business practice that has nothing to do with needles or cummerbunds.

On Thursdays, she usually prepares meatballs - using a family recipe - and brings them in for customers. But her Ambler home also had no power, so she brought Wawa coffee and doughnuts instead.

Businesses in other communities also were slow or unable to rev up Thursday.

In Doylestown, Helen Wehmeyer, manager of Hickory Kitchen, came and went from the darkened restaurant throughout the day.

She was hoping the fourth time would be the charm.

It wasn't, even though lights were on in most other shops along West Court Street.

"It's not fun," Wehmeyer said. "It's definitely not fun."

Even when electricity came back at 3:30 p.m., it wasn't fun. The restaurant decided not to open until Friday.

Andrea Serio, owner of Nonno's Café on West State Street in Doylestown, said the disruption reflected a harsh winter for small businesses.

Sales since January have likely dipped 10 to 15 percent, Serio estimated.

"It's been horrible," she said. She called the season the "winter from hell."

610-313-8109 @carolyntweets

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