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Outages crimp commerce on U.S. 19 stretch

Sunny Patel wanted to open his Palm Harbor ice cream parlor Monday, but he had neither ice cream nor electricity.

"Only thing I have is the cups and the spoons," Patel said. "Everything else melted."

When the power went out Sunday at Carvel Ice Cream Bakery on U.S. 19, about 500 gallons of ice cream softened beyond hope. Patel and his wife, Kajal, spent hours Monday sopping up the goopy mess before the power was restored about 2 p.m. Monday.

At 3 p.m. Monday, 214,972 customers in Pinellas County remained without power, according to Progress Energy. Along U.S. 19 from Tarpon Springs to Clearwater dozens of businesses were still in the dark with no word about when their power might be restored.

At Muvico 10 in Palm Harbor, the box office was dark and a hand-lettered sign was taped to the window: "No Power. No Movies."

Up and down U.S. 19, some offices were open. Others were closed. In Palm Harbor, at SCC Soft Computer, which develops computer programs for clinical laboratories and other health care facilities, about a fifth of the company's 500 employees were working Monday, some of them from home.

The company used generators to power the equipment it needed to handle critical tasks, said vice president for administration Armin Hakim. Other calls were rerouted to SCC operations overseas or in other parts of the United States.

"We have everything under control," Hakim said. "It's just not 100 percent efficient."

The company learned something from the experience, he said. Next time, SCC executives will consider having more generators on hand.

Improvising was the rule of the day.

It was cash or check only. The milk had spoiled at the Walgreens at Nebraska Avenue and U.S. 19 in Palm Harbor, but the store was open. Customers were ushered down dark aisles by clerks holding flashlights. Cashiers used calculators to ring up sales while managers scrambled to rent generators to get the lights back on in the store.

Despite the dark, the store had a steady stream of customers, said store manager Manny Vestas.

At Carvel Ice Cream, the outage meant nearly a complete loss. Sunny Patel was able to take a few boxes of the soft-serve mix to a nearby gas station where the owner _ a stranger to the Patels _ let them use a corner of a freezer overnight.

Patel expected a big delivery this morning, and calculated that it would take at least three days of almost round-the-clock work to replenish their store-made stock.

"At least we have a roof," Kajal Patel said. "It's only ice cream."

At Leader's Casual Furniture in Clearwater, business was thriving even if the power was out, said sales associate Christy DeLage. With computers down, she called other stores to check inventory and run credit cards.

"Fortunately for us, you can sell furniture without electricity," DeLage said.

A few stores down, the two salesmen at Beepers 'N Phones manned their dark store, hoping they would get clearance to close early, before it got dark.

"We're just trying to make a dollar out of nothing," said Jason May. "And we're sweating."

They had scrambled to get the store operational Monday morning, with Rick Bishop visiting three stores before he found an old-style telephone _ not cordless _ that they could plug in and use to receive calls.

Even so, business was slow and the phone only rang a few times Monday.

While the rest of Highland Lakes Square in Palm Harbor was empty, Pat Welter felt that even without power, she had to open her yoga studio.

"After the last storm, everybody flooded in here," said Welter, who planned to hold yoga class by candlelight Monday night. "They found that they needed the stress relief."

And, the power was out at her Palm Harbor home, too. So coming to work was a treat.

"My equipment doesn't need electricity," said Welter, as she wrapped up a private Pilates session.

"They just require sweat," chimed in customer Laurie Forrester, stretching after her workout in the dark and unair-conditioned studio.

Nora Koch can be reached at nkochsptimes.com.

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