Could last week’s power outage in Vevay mean that the community will lose its full service grocery store again?
That could very well, be the case, as Eric Rabe, owner of the Vevay IGA store, has currently closed the store and is looking for alternatives to reopen it.
Rabe said that the situation, in his opinion, falls directly on Duke Energy. He said that since October of last year he’s had $122,000 in insurance claims at the Vevay store because of power outages. Those outages mean that perishable products have to be either thrown away or given away, and then an insurance claim is filed to recoup the losses.
Because of those past losses, along with what he projects to be about a $70,000 loss with last week’s 21-hour power outage, his insurance company has notified him that it is canceling his insurance coverage, not only on the Vevay store, but also on the other two stores that he owns and operates.
The insurance company told him that it will continue coverage on the other stores if the Vevay store is removed from the policy.
“Without insurance, there’s no way I can reopen the store,” Rabe said earlier this week. “We are working on ways to try and get Duke to help us, but without insurance I can’t operate.”
Rabe said that he’s frustrated at the ongoing power outages at the store, and he thinks that he, and the entire community, deserve some answers.
“This is the fourth claim we’ve had,” Rabe said of the insurance. “At my other stores, I’ve not had a claim. In my humble opinion, the arrow is pointed directly at Duke.”
Rabe said that as he understands it, there are two things that Duke could do to help alleviate future outages.
REMC has power lines at Markland, and it is possible that Duke could install a ‘loop’ in that area, and when power goes out, electricity could go through the loop and provide power through REMC until Duke can get its problem fixed.
Another option is that Duke can do a better job of providing maintenance on the lines, cutting down on the possibility of trees and branches falling on lines, knocking them down and cutting off power.
Rabe said that one of the frustrating things about last Thursday night when the power first went off was that he and others kept getting information that power would be restored in about two hours – but then two hours later they were told it would be another two hours. All of this kept businesses and residents in limbo.
“If they would have just said, ‘this is going to take 22 hours’, we probably would have done something different,” Rabe said. “There’s a truck down there (at the store) now (Monday morning) that we got from our dairy supplier. Unfortunately we also had a deliver on Friday morning, so we had a full truckload of stuff, so we had to put all the refrigerated things in the reefer truck.”
But most things have had to be discarded or given away.
“I have not thrown away anything,” Rabe said, “We’ve had three food banks – Madison, Scottsburg, and Batesville – come and pick up food. The first thing I did was to try ours, but they don’t have a cooler or anything to store the perishables. That cooler that they had at Markland has been broken down, so there was nothing we could do for that.”
Rabe said that even before this last situation, he knew that his current insurance provider was going to drop his stores because of the claims he’s had before on Duke issues.
Rabe said that he has filed a claim with Duke on this loss, but he doesn’t expect any help.
He said that one of the frustrating things was that when he and others looked at Duke’s website on Friday, the only area experiencing outage was here.
“It’s not anything we did,” Rabe said. “The key is, it’s not just our store, it’s every store; every restaurant; every household in this town. When you’ve got a 22 hour outage, everybody’s throwing something away, and it’s a shame.”
Rabe said that the problem extended past just groceries. He said that there were people calling who were on oxygen and had other medical conditions that required electricity.
“Fortunately the fire department and everybody, they were great,” Rabe said. They knew who the shut ins were and who might need help; and they took canisters of oxygen to them and some food to them, which was great; but it’s not just us, it’s everybody.”
From the personal aspect of the closing of the store, Rabe said that he had all of his employees in the store for a meeting on Monday morning. He said that he told the employees what was going on.
“We told them that we want to reopen the store; and there are people in the community working towards that goal,” Rabe said. “But I don’t have insurance, and I can’t reopen the store if I don’t have insurance. We need to go after Duke, that’s the issue. I have filed a claim with Duke, but something has to happen.”
Rabe said that he’s willing to help his employees in anyway he can while the future of the store is in flux.
So how does the community make this happen and put things in place for the store to reopen?
Rabe said that the first thing is to use the system, and contact elected officials and have them do what they can do to make it so he can reopen.
He said that someone needs to put together an action plan, with Duke’s assistance, that can be taken to his insurance company to show it that things are being put into place to keep situations like this from happening again, hopefully making the insurance company feel more comfortable that this isn’t going to be happening again.
“Pretty much all of that is Duke,” Rabe said. “They’re going to have to do the loop, and they’re going to have to trim the lines.”
Rabe said that purchasing a generator to power the store during times when the electricity is out really isn’t an option financially, in that he estimates that it would cost approximately $100,000 to have a generator big enough to provide enough power to supply the store. He also noted that his insurance company told him that only about three-percent of grocery stores have generators on site for power outages, mainly due to the expense.
Rabe said that something needs to be done about this particular incident needs to be resolved before he can begin the process of trying to find a new insurance carrier, or convince his current one to re-instate the policy.
After that, Rabe said that he thinks the community needs to have a rally and invite elected officials and the community show up and invite media from all over the Tri-State area to shed light on the situation.
“I think we need to get the attention of somebody at Duke that this isn’t going to go away,” Rabe said. “We need our grocery store. We know what’s it’s like to not have a store. We’ve been there. We’re a Five Star store, we’re the best of the best. It’s a great story. It’s been a win-win in my opinion. It’s a shame that Duke is causing this to happen.”
Through all of this, Rabe said that he remains committed to Vevay, and he appreciates the support that the community has shown his store since it opened.
So, if insurance can be worked out, Rabe is willing and ready to reopen the store?
“Oh yes,” he said. “I’ll be there in a New York second. I love the store. I love my people. They love it, they’re crying. If the insurance can be worked out, I’ll be open within 24 hours if I have to be there all night. I love this store and this community.”