At around 8 or so this morning, the water main at Nifong and Buttonwood was accidentally broken by contractors working on a utility project in the area. We had been baking for just a bit when Gunnar noted that while there was plenty of water flowing down Buttonwood, there wasn't actually any coming out of our faucets. It wasn't long before neighboring business owners and employees began wondering around in the parking lot trying to figure out exactly what had happened and most importantly, an estimated time until water would be restored. A quick call to the city water and light department revealed that the department was actually not aware of the problem (at least the person answering the phone wasn't) and the poor lone construction worker standing in the middle of gushing water could only estimate a six hour wait until repairs could be made. SIX HOURS. And then another person shouted out that it could be 10 or 12 hours. And then I just hit a spiral of panic. Because you know what is terrible for a small business? Not baking for 12 hours and canceling all the pies on order.
Shortly thereafter, Starbucks decided to close for the day. And if we were a multinational corporation with millions of dollars in sales, closing the location on Nifong and Buttonwood for the day wouldn't have been a gut-wrenching decision. But when your business is small and every single dollar counts, we considered taking a shovel over there and asking if we could help dig so the problem could be fixed more quickly.
A few news outlets stopped by for our take on the story and we appreciated the opportunity to discuss how even the most mundane of issues can significantly impact the success of small business. As we loom closer to the new year and our slowest time of the year, we are working exceptionally hard to make and sell as much pie as possible to be in the best financial position. And while water main breaks are just part of life and a reminder that I can't really control everything, what was exceptionally frustrating was the lack of information available from the city regarding the cause, the plan to repair, and the estimated time until we could safely use our water again.
Because the water main break was in a major commercial area and impacted all businesses within a quarter-mile of the main (according to the lone construction worker, not any official information), my expectation is that information regarding the situation be immediately available...and I don't think that is a terribly unrealistic expectation. A simple mass text notification to customers in the impacted area could have resolved a lot of angst and squelched a lot of misinformation. And if not text, then perhaps an automatic calling system. Or an email. Or tweet. Or Facebook post. Or Instagram picture of gushing water. You get the point.
Because we weren't sure what else to do, we stayed open and sold our half-price pies from yesterday and the few we had finished before it all happened. We made phone calls to customers who had ordered pie for today and explained the situation. Some moved their order to tomorrow and some simply needed to cancel because we weren't sure if baking in the afternoon would be possible.
But, by noon or so, we found ourselves with water again, and was a beautiful sight . Perhaps an hour later, a city employee stopped by with a boil order hangtag, in effect for 24 hours. (The boil order only impacted potable water). And so it finally became business as normal at PJP...around 1:15 this afternoon. We were so thankful that it didn't turn into an all day water outage and that we could safely be open this afternoon. (But seriously missed our afternoon Starbucks caffeine boost.)
I'd like to think that I won't take clean water for granted again...because when you don't have it, then you just realize how much you need it. To that end, I did a little research on clean water initiatives and made a donation to the The Water Project - an organization focused on bringing clean and safe water to sub-Saharan Africa. Cheers to clean water for everyone on the regular.