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While stoplights endlessly blinked and drivers packed gas stations Wednesday on Soscol Avenue, Jefferson Street and Trancas Street, an unusual emptiness prevailed in the areas around Imola Avenue on the city’s south side.
The east-west route was marked by four-way stops at lightless traffic signals, and locked doors at restaurants and shops that should have been bustling at their mid-week busiest.
“CLOSED – NO POWER,” announced a handbill pasted inside Rite Aid’s front doors at the River Park shopping center. Similar messages were posted at storefront after darkened storefront, with the Grocery Outlet sign adding a sad-face emoji for emphasis.
In a parking lot otherwise as empty as on a national holiday, one of the few vehicles was a Hyundai sedan with its hood propped open. A cord led from its battery through the open door of Cigarettes & More and into a computer to power its credit-card reader, allowing owner Gary Mehrok to take customers when almost no one else on the block could.
“We had to do it one time before, a few years back, when the power went out for a couple hours,” Mehrok explained, standing outside the dimmed storefront. “We have a generator we’re trying to start up for lights. … With a generator we can open for as long as we have to go. Of course, we don’t prefer that!” he added, managing a chuckle.
Unscheduled emptiness also prevailed across most of the South Napa Century Center, the movie, food and office complex to the east. Businesses at the Gasser Drive property were left without power except for the Century Napa Valley movie theater, which is on a separate electrical circuit and opened at midday as scheduled, popcorn machines and all.
The Century Center’s Hampton Inn & Suites managed to stay open through a combination of generator power and economy measures, according to hotel staff. Receptionists took phone calls at the check-in desk using only night lights, the elevators and in-room lighting were shut off and guests were given flashlights, although water heaters and power outlets in public spaces remained functional.
Across the parking lot, one of the Century Center’s newest and highest-profile tenants also leaned on its natural-gas generator to keep its listeners informed on the latest developments during the blackout.
“This isn’t a surprise for us; we’ve been hearing for the past year that we would have these shutdowns,” said Wine Down Media’s co-owner Will Marcencia in the studios of KVON-AM and KVYN-FM, where on-site back-up power supplies studios, servers and a multi-purpose “soundspace” room. Each station’s transmission tower also has its own, diesel-powered generator to allow broadcasting as well as production to continue.
Emergency readiness has been one of Wine Down Media’s highest priorities since the stations moved to Gasser Drive in July from their longtime home on Foster Road, according to Marcencia. “We’ve been prepared from Day 1 since we moved here,” he said. “We’ve just been waiting for the day.”
On Trancas Street in north Napa, the line between light and darkness was invisible but starkly evident. While visitors pushed shopping carts out of the Nob Hill grocery and CVS or dropped by Jamba Juice for smoothies, motorists were forced to slow down for another darkened stoplight at Old Soscol Way just a few hundred yards away.
No unscheduled closures were reported at hotels or restaurants in the downtown core, according to the Napa Chamber of Commerce. In the Oxbow district to the east, the Oxbow Public Market also opened its doors Wednesday morning – although one tenant hedged against the power cuts spreading into the gourmet-food emporium later.
“We brought a bunch of stuff from inside, and I came from San Francisco with things like (filtered) water,” said Ritual Coffee’s retail director Emily Dobies while a co-worker hooked a generator to a converted Airstream trailer that would serve as a parking-lot coffee stand.
Inside the market building, Ritual Coffee and a few other vendors already had opened for the morning, serving vacationers checking on the fate of their travel plans – and residents intently following their smartphones and laptops, figuring out how to get homes and businesses through two or more days with no power.
“It would certainly screw up our vacation, unless we could drink in the dark!” quipped Louann Johnson of Columbus, Ohio. “We were worried about getting back to the airport if traffic lights were out.”