News Column

Back to Business After Sandy

Oct. 30, 2012

Kenneth R. Gosselin, The Hartford Courant

Since ESPN launched its network in Bristol in 1979, there have only been a handful of times the company has cut back local programming because of the weather: Hurricane Gloria in 1985 and in heavy snow during a couple of winters.

Now ESPN can add Sandy to the list.

ESPN canceled one mid-afternoon show and shifted production of another to the West Coast as the storm blew in, but by late Monday, the network decided that almost all of its local programming would return to Bristol, Conn., Tuesday. The worst of Sandy's punch would be passed by then, and it would be safe enough for workers on those shows to return to the studios.

"The feeling is we'll be able to have enough personnel in to keep the shows goings," Mike Soltys, an ESPN spokesman, said. "It was a decision that was made late in the day, given the weather conditions."

Sandy buffeted the state with gusting winds and, along the shoreline, serious flooding Monday, but its power was not as severe as first feared. That left businesses across Connecticut wrestling late Monday with whether they should remain closed a second day or re-open.

And others already were looking beyond Sandy.

At Belfor Property Restoration's Connecticut office in Wallingford, general manager Mike Cody said the company is bringing workers to the state from as far away as California to clean up the mess and rebuild damaged structures. Belfor works with insurance agents, businesses, towns and cities.

"Some are on their way, some are already here," Cody said. "Now, we're just waiting."

The company has about 100 workers in Connecticut, Cody said, but that could grow "ten-, twenty-fold" in Sandy's aftermath.

Late Monday, it became clear that many businesses were still taking a wait-and-see approach, several opting to remain closed another day.

All 770 Wells Fargo stores are closed in the Northeast Tuesday, according to Kevin Friedlander, Northeast Communications Manager for the company. That includes all 75 locations in Connecticut.

Insurer Cigna Corp. closed its offices from Philadelphia to outside Boston on Monday, including its offices in Bloomfield and Windsor, sites that employ a total of 3,800. Late Monday, Cigna said it would extend the shutdown another day.

Rockville Bank said its branches would be closed Tuesday as well, and aerospace manufacturer Kaman Corp. postponed its quarterly earnings report a day, as major stock exchanges remained closed Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Webster Bank branches will reopen at noon on Tuesday.

And, in Cromwell, a job fair sponsored by the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce scheduled for Tuesday has been postponed.

ESPN's decision to cut back its local programming is a testament to Sandy's intensity and potential for destruction. It is extremely rare to see such a "fairly large" scaling back of locally-produced programming, Soltys said.

Monday, the network planned to locally produce its popular SportsCenter through 6 p.m., then repeat the 6 p.m. show from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m. Starting at 11 p.m., the show was produced from Los Angeles. ESPN normally doesn't send the show to the West Coast until 1 a.m.

It canceled an afternoon show, "Outside the Lines," and replaced it with taped programming.

Tuesday, ESPN will resume all local programming, though it will produce the 11 p.m. SportCenter in Los Angeles.

United Technologies Corp's Pratt & Whitney division reopened Tuesday at 9 a.m., with second and third shifts to be on a normal schedule. The company's East Hartford and Middletown plants closed late Monday morning, affecting about 12,000 workers. UTC's corporate offices in Hartford and Farmington also sent workers home early on Monday.

Sandy's disruption to business varied across different industries in the state. Corporate workers at many companies were asked to work from home as long as they had power.

Hartford-based Aetna closed offices from Washington D.C. north to Windsor, including its headquarters in Hartford, where it employs 4,668. But 22,700 people plugged in from home, up from about 16,400 on an average day. The last record was 18,000 set a year ago during the freak October snowstorm.

Stores and restaurants lost at least a day of sales. Retail giant Walmart said, as of early afternoon Monday, it has closed 143 stores, including 35 in Connecticut.

The Hartford Restaurant Group -- including Wood'n Tap, Agave and TD Homer's restaurants -- reopened Tuesday.

The Max Restaurant Group, is reopening some restaurant Tuesday, including Max Downtown, Max's Oyster Bar, Max's Taven, Max Burger and Trumbull Kitchen, however, Max Amore, Max A Mia & Max Fish were all still without power on Tuesday morning, according to Facebook, so they won't reopen until at least Wednesday.

which operates Max Downtown and Max Amore, among other restaurants, posted this message on its Facebook page: ""Friends: Due to storm conditions, and with the safety and well-being of our guests, team, and families in mind, all Max Restaurant Group restaurants will be closed today, Monday, October 29. We will make all efforts to reopen after the storm as soon as it is safe for us to do so. We wish everyone well and hope that no one is terribly inconvenienced."

Many banks lost a day or at least a part of a day not being able to transact business at branches, but electronic commerce continued as long as there was power. At least two banks, JPMorgan Chase and Wells Fargo, said they would waive or refund certain account fees for customers in affected areas.

Connecticut's casinos -- Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun -- remained open during the storm. While Mohegan said the bulk of its restaurants and stores were open and its 1,200-room hotel was sold out for Monday and Tuesday, Foxwoods said it wasn't taking new hotel reservations and many of its venues were closed.

Some hotels saw something positive in Sandy: an uptick in bookings.

The Hilton Stamford Hotel is typically 40 percent full on a Monday night, but its 435 rooms are sold out for Monday night. It's mostly local evacuees, hotel employee Kendal Toles said, and the hotel is also sold out Tuesday. "It's a nice bump for us," he said.

Courant Staff Writers Brian Dowling and Mara Lee contributed to this story.



Source: (c)2012 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) Distributed by MCT Information Services


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