Plunging temperatures, a lack of electricity and, now, a lack of water this week meant a new normal not just for the county residents stuck at home, but also those businesses that struggled to stay open or reopen.
Business owners awoke Thursday — the first day many residents saw sustained power this week — to assess the damage from the cold snap and attempt to get back to business as usual. It was anything but a typical day, however.
The 224-room Hotel Galvez on the island’s seawall this week saw demand for 1,000 rooms a night as locals sought warmer accommodations, said Marty Miles, complex general manager for the seawall property and downtown hotels The Tremont House and harbor House Hotel & Marina at Pier 21 in Galveston.
But the same problems driving many residents to businesses across the county — a lack of power, water and supplies — was inspiring many hotel and business owners to find creative and sometimes very unusual solutions just to continue commerce and provide routine services, they said.
As of noon Thursday, CenterPoint Energy reported only about 40,000 customers across the Houston region were without power, a sharp decline from the more than 1 million who went without power earlier in the week. But as the week progressed and temperatures rose, frozen pipes thawed and burst, creating water supply problems across the county.
Employees at Miles’ hotels, for instance, this week were filling buckets with borrowed water from nearby warehouses or other unusual sources and taking them to the historic hotel, Miles said.
Until water availability and pressure improve, employees must manually flush the toilet every time a guest uses it until water is restored, he said.
At least some Galveston County restaurants were operating Thursday with the added complication that employees had to boil water before using it.
Lower water pressure in the pipes allows groundwater and other contaminants to seep into older pipes that might have cracks. Some of that groundwater could contain harmful bacteria that can be eliminated only by boiling the water, officials said.
“The water boiling is just an extra step we have to do,” said Joleen Cogburn, a co-owner of Boyd’s One Stop along with the popular Boyd’s Cajun Grill Express in Texas City.
In some ways, Cogburn was lucky, she said. The business remained open through the week, selling wholesale, because the warehouse has a generator.
Several companies have canceled their orders because of icy conditions on the road, however, Cogburn said.
Cogburn made the decision to reopen the retail and food side of the business Thursday because electricity was restored early in the morning, she said.
KEEPING THEIR COOL
Some restaurants have been less fortunate, however.
A walk-in freezer was the difference between The Spot, 3204 Seawall Blvd., losing the entire $25,000 in product it keeps at all times and the smaller loss the Galveston restaurant actually sustained, owner Dennis Byrd said.
Restaurant owners are handling the aftermath of the cold snap much like they would hurricanes and other natural disasters, Byrd said.
The Spot first reopened Wednesday and served about 1,000 hot meals, despite maintaining only intermittent power, said Lauren Desormeaux, director of operations for the restaurant.
The walk-in freezer at The Spot generally holds a steady temperature of about minus 5, Byrd said. Because temperatures fell so much during the cold snap, that temperature only increased about 10 degrees and much of the product was saved, Byrd said.
Byrd as of Thursday hadn’t made a full assessment of how much money he lost but estimated employees had to discard about 20 percent of product, or about $5,000.
The Spot as of Thursday was allowing only cash payments because of intermittent power service, Desormeaux said.
“We did it for speed of service,” she said. “To make sure everyone was served in a timely fashion.”
CoCo Crepes, Waffles & Coffee and Little Bella Mia, 2471 Interstate 45 S. in League City, both opened Thursday but aren’t serving any fountain soda, tap water or ice, said Manish Maheshwari, who owns them.
For similar reasons, Red River Bar-B-Que & Grill was only planning to open at 3 p.m. Thursday with a limited to-go menu, said Kevin Kiersh, owner of the restaurant and Red River Cantina.
The restaurants got power back in the buildings early Thursday and have water employees can boil but will remain to-go only so that no one goes in and gets drinks, Kiersh said.
Ami Stone, a co-owner of Stone Cold Meats, 3612 W. Main St., said her business has been comparatively lucky.
The business reopened to the public Wednesday and has been helping feed people for free and donating what it can to those working to feed people, Stone said.
The facility only lost power for about two hours, so the business owners didn’t lose any stock whatsoever, she said.
“We’re sitting on a golden island, I guess,” she said.