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How businesses in Windsor pivoted from prep for PG&E power shut-off to Kincade Fire evacuation

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Windsor Township was among several evacuated communities getting back to business after authorities gave the all-clear late Wednesday afternoon from the Kincade fire. This story was largely reported while the power outages and mandatory evacuations were in place. The Business Journal was able to reconnect with some of the story participants after the evacuation was lifted. Here are their stories.

“I got back to work (Wednesday) night to a tremendous welcome from the town of Windsor,” said David Cully, owner of KC’s American Kitchen, located in downtown Windsor. “What an emotional thing to have everybody stand out there and welcome you back.”

Cully brought his crew in Wednesday night to dump out what Cully estimates was between $10,000 and $15,000 worth of spoiled food, and to sanitize the restaurant.

The town’s electrical power had been restored, but not gas, so the restaurant couldn’t open Thursday. Pacific Gas & Electric Co. personnel starting visiting Windsor locations Saturday, Nov. 2, to restore gas service, but that process was expected to stretch into Monday, Nov. 4.

Cully’s restaurant was open to customers when the mandatory evacuation was announced on Oct. 26, he said.

“It was 10 a.m., there was the press conference and then the Nixle alerts started going off, and so it was like, OK, it’s time to go,” he said about the emergency electronic alert system many North Bay governments have been using to communicate with residents. “Everybody finished their meal and got going. It was kind of a natural flow.”

Cully and his wife took valuable photos off the walls, snapped pictures inside the restaurant and of the food stored inside the walk-in fridge and freezer. Then he went home, executed payroll for his 45 employees, and got everyone paid. He also filed an insurance claim.

Cully credits that decision to Windsor’s town leadership, who held a number of preplanning meetings ahead of PG&E’s ongoing planned power outages. Paying employees, having cash on hand and getting generators were among the takeaways of those sessions.

PREP TIME

Lorene Romero, president and CEO of the Windsor Chamber of Commerce and Visitors Center, and Tim Ricard, the town’s economic development manager, began outreach efforts earlier this year to help businesses develop effective power-outage preparedness and mitigation plans, including for PG&E’s public safety power shutoff program, or PSPS. Mickie Tagle, the town manager’s senior management analyst, handled much of the logistics and outreach in pulling the events together.

Romero said a plan was in place for the PSPS event that was to start on Oct. 25, before Windsor subsequently went into evacuation mode at 4 p.m. the following day.

“I had a list of businesses that were going to be open so people had places to go on both sides of the town,” she said, naming Oliver’s Market, Raley’s, Corks & Taps, Baldassari Wine Lounge, and KC’s American Kitchen.

As it turned out, the PSPS preparation helped Windsor’s businesses stay in “go mode” for when the evacuation happened, Romero said.

Ricard on Thursday thanked first responders for their hard work in defending Windsor from the fire, and acknowledged that the town’s businesses need support.

“I think the business community had a tough time. They were closed, unable to do business for five days,” Ricard said. “Many of them lost inventory, so I would just encourage people as much as possible to come visit Windsor and support our local businesses.”

SAFE AND SECURE

“We’re open right now; there was no reason not to,” Laurie Shimizu, co-owner of Mark Shimizu Design, a jewelry store, said Thursday morning. “I sent out a message on Facebook that we’re open, come down and say hi, let us know how you’re doing, get a hug and maybe have your jewelry cleaned.”

Shimizu, the business brains to husband Mark’s creative mind, said earlier last week while evacuated from her Windsor home that she was staying calm and figuring out insurance and how to best reimburse her three employees for lost time. Shimizu also serves as president of the Downtown Windsor Merchants Association.

She also participated in the town’s PSPS planning sessions, though owning a jewelry store made her preparation work more straightforward. She didn’t need a generator, for example.

“For security and safety reasons, it was obvious that we just needed to close,” Shimizu said. “We have a very secure safe and have battery backup for the alarm system. I didn’t feel too bad, but then I was hearing that authorities were monitoring businesses for looters.” She said their “hypervigilance” was reassuring.

One of Shimizu’s biggest takeaways from the PSPS planning, she said, was being able to keep a clear mind when it came time to evacuate.

“I had just set the store up. I had to pack as much jewelry as I could into the safe. I just a started pulling in everything and within 20 minutes we were out of there,” she said. “I felt sharp, focused, did what I had to do and got out of the store. Then we could go home and prepare to evacuate.”

DOUBLE TROUBLE

Jacki Wilson, owner of Two Dog Night Creamery, opened her Windsor store in April, not long after she temporarily lost her Sebastopol shop at The Barlow because of the floods that devastated numerous businesses in February. Wilson opened her Sebastopol ice cream store in 2013.

With the latest PSPS event, Wilson lost product in both stores. When Windsor was subsequently evacuated, she got on the phone to start an insurance claim.

She has a total of 15 part-time employees, comprised of two college students and the rest high school students.

“Our pay period is every other Friday, so luckily they got paid this past Friday (Oct. 25),” Wilson said. “But unfortunately, I don’t have the funds to be able to pay them while there isn’t any work.”

Once power was restored in Sebastopol, she was able to offer work to her employees to help get the Sebastopol store back in business.

“To prepare for the power outage, I had shoved everything I could into our little tiny freezer,” she said, adding the Sebastopol space she rents is 450 square feet. “Luckily, with some dry ice we were able to save a lot of the gallons of ice cream.”

Wilson said what she learned from the town’s PSPS planning sessions was helpful to some extent, but she’s more concerned about the future.

“A lot of people in the community are saying this is the new normal and that we have to accept it,” Wilson said. “I refuse to accept this as the new normal. I respect PG&E for doing what they can to prevent the fires. … Unfortunately, the shutoff didn’t help with this (Kincade) fire.”

BEST SERVED NOT HOT

Russian River Brewing Co.’s brewpub and manufacturing facility in Windsor fared relatively well from the outage and evacuation, though like KC’s American Kitchen, was without gas on Thursday.

“We preemptively rented this massive generator,” said Natalie Cilurzo, co-owner and president of Russian River Brewing Co., best known for its downtown Santa Rosa location. “We need to protect ourselves from these PSPS shutoffs.”

Cilurzo estimates the cost to buy a generator for the Windsor building would be at least $250,000.

“We have some other capital expenditures coming up for 2020, so will hold out for as long as we can,” she said, “but we might have to do it next summer in preparation for next fall.”

On Thursday, Cilurzo and her crew were in Windsor working to get back to normal.

“We’re changing out the air filters, trying to clean up all the ash that’s on the roof, the walkway, the beer garden, and on the parking lot,” Cilurzo said. “And we’re in the kitchen assessing losses and spoilage.”

Cilurzo said the bar would open Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m., at happy hour prices.

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