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Published: Sunday, 8/3/2014 - Updated: 1 year ago

Water emergency means pain for some, opportunities for others

Brothers Butch, left, and Denny Varnes of Toledo watch news coverage of the water crisis as they grab a bite to eat at My House Diner. Brothers Butch, left, and Denny Varnes of Toledo watch news coverage of the water crisis as they grab a bite to eat at My House Diner.
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The messages and texts about a water emergency started reaching restaurant owner Patrick McCune about 2 a.m. Saturday.

“I’m like, OK, this is serious,” said Mr. McCune, who owns the 24-hour West Toledo eatery My House Diner on Lewis Avenue. “I said, ‘turn off the coffee pot, shut down the ice machine.’ ”

And after he briefly considered closing the doors, Mr. McCune said he decided instead to figure out a way to operate without using the city’s microcystin-contaminated water. He didn’t close the restaurant during snow emergencies last winter and he didn’t plan to close Saturday, he said.

“My thing is my customers depend on me to be here,” he said. “It’s like their second home.

“We have a lot of elderly clientele and if they can’t get coffee at home, they need someplace to go to get a cup of coffee.”

Mr. McCune spent $300 on paper plates, plastic untensils and bottled water. He temporarily hiked the price for coffee and other beverages and he let his staff know they still had to come to work.

Business was slow, Mr. McCune said. While tables and the counter were busy with patrons enjoying the diner’s burgers, onion rings, and famous cheesecake, usually there’s a line of customers out the door on Saturday afternoon, he said.

“It’s a big hit for the small guy,” Mr. McCune said. “The big corporate guys can make it up, but mom and pop shops take a hit.”

The water crisis cost him about $1,000 in lost revenue and extra expenses Saturday, he said.

Most restaurants in the city opted to close after the Toledo-Lucas County Health Department strongly recommended that food-related businesses suspend their operations. The department made an exception for facilities that could guarantee no consumption of tap water.

Gus Mancy, owner of the Mancy Restaurant Group, said the company regretted closing its restaurants on a Saturday, but had no choice.

“We’re fully in compliance with the health commissioner’s request,” Mr. Mancy said. “There’s nothing we want to do to jeopardize our clients.”

Among many special events in the area canceled because of the contamination was the the Toledo-Lucas County Public Library’s 1960’s themed rooftop fund-raising party, which had to be rescheduled for Aug. 9.

Isaac Miles of Toledo sells water on Lewis Avenue. Isaac Miles of Toledo sells water on Lewis Avenue.
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Hotels and banquet halls, which also rely on big Saturday events, were forced to cancel or scale-back service. Stone Oak Country Club in Holland closed early after offering a lunch service with simplified menu served on paper plates. Highland Meadows Golf Club in Sylvania also had to close its restaurant and move two reunion banquets to other locations.

In Perrysburg, the Mr. Freeze ice cream shop shut down on Saturday as a result of the water crisis.

The water emergency did create business opportunities for a few motivated entrepreneurs, though.

Isaac Miles, of Toledo, heard about the microcystin contamination while working the third shift at a Speedway gas station. He hatched a plan to help waterless residents and make a little profit by heading north after work in search of bottled water.

“I jumped on 75 and tried to get to the next store, but every place I got I was just a tad late and all the water was sold, so I had to keep going,” Mr. Miles said.

Eventually he found water in a store north of Woodhaven, Mich., about 40 miles from Toledo, so he bought $80 worth and headed home.

While demand was brisk in the morning, sales had slowed by midday, he said. Selling gallon jugs for $2 each, he had unloaded half his stock by 1:30 p.m. and recouped his $80 investment.

Toledo Water Conditioning, which sells bottled purified water, sold out at its South Toledo shop by 3 p.m., owner John Keener said.

“We produce water constantly, but our system was overwhelmed,” Mr. Keener said. “We literally had, at one point, a line down the street with people waiting in the rain.”

The big question for most business owners late Saturday is how long they’ll have to remain closed or endure extra expense before the water emergency ends.

“We can keep going until we run out of plates and silverware,” Mr. McCune said.

Staff writer Barbara Hendel contributed to this report.

Contact Wynne Everett at: weverett@theblade.com or 419-724-6085.

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