A blown transformer didn’t just mean the lights went out on a sweltering Sunday in Downtown Ventura, it also meant tens of thousands of dollars in lost business for local businesses forced to close on one of the year’s biggest holiday weekends.
“I had to close for a day, which for me, on Labor Day weekend, means I lost around $10,000,” said Maria Fiore, the owner of Café Fiore.
Fiore was one of many business owners on a stretch of California Street between Santa Clara and Main streets who learned on the morning of Sept. 2 that a transformer failure knocked out power to their establishments.
Rudy Gonzales, a spokesman for Southern California Edison, said about 1,600 customers were initially affected by the power failure that zapped Fiore’s business. Within about two hours, he said, power was restored to all but a relatively small, isolated group of customers, who went without power until early Monday morning.
Small as it may have been, that group includes businesses at the heart of Downtown, which was packed with potential customers over the Labor Day weekend. In addition to Café Fiore, places like the Sportsman Restaurant & Cocktail Lounge, Weaver Wines, and the Bella Maggiore Inn had to close their doors for the day or severely curtail operations.
“Our guests were just completely upset because we had to close down the restaurant,” Wendy Kuns said. Kuns is an executive assistant at the hotel, which was fully booked over the weekend.
Kuns, Fiore, and their colleagues weren’t helped by holiday traffic, either.
Gonzales said an Edison troubleman determined shortly after the power failure that a cable failed in a vault near the Sportsman restaurant. When the troubleman opened the vault up he discovered it was full of water. Although the troubleman was able to reroute power to limit the disruption, crews weren’t able to work on the failed cable until a contractor could come to vacuum up the water so they could work safely (the contractor also had to collect and contain water and oil in the vault to safely dispose of it). But with the contractor based in Compton, crews had to wait until 3:30 for the truck to arrive.
“Normally it doesn’t take that long,” Gonzales said. But widespread problems throughout Edison’s service area meant the company’ss resources were strained. Since the heat storm began last week, he said, 573,800 customers were affected by high temperatures or lightning strikes. 29,000 were still without power by late in the afternoon on Sept. 6.
“We’re using every crew available,” he said. “As a result, in a relatively cool community like Ventura, it just delays our ability to get out there.”
The delays meant that Fiore’s cooks could not prepare food or bake bread for the dinner rush. Without a clear picture when power would be restored she had to shut down.
“It was huge for me,” Fiore said. “I was so disappointed because it’s not the first time.”
A transformer was replaced near her business last year, she said.
Kuns said her business was fortunate because they were able to route enough power through a line at the back of their business to process credit cards, but there may have been bigger problems if the lights were not restored by the evening. To buy a little more time, the hotel bought movie theater tickets for all its guests to ensure they would have an air-conditioned place to spend time. Kuns said it’s the third time in recent memory the transformer has failed.
“If you know the heat is going to affect these transformers, then why not let a maintenance person be out there to check on it,” Kuns said. “We’re really concerned about this because it keeps happening. It never really gets hot here in Ventura.”
Gonzales said he could not immediately comment on the transformer’s history, but that it would be difficult to pinpoint what caused it to fail. Repair crews replaced the cable that burned out, he said, and installed a larger transformer.