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By: Antoinette Siu and Riley McDermid
Source: SF Business Times (Online)
Wine Country businesses impacted by recent wildfires face uncertainty about their customers and workforce almost a month after the disaster, a new poll conducted by the San Francisco Business Times found this week.
Last week the Business Times conducted a survey of 4,081 businesses in the North Bay. Of the 48 that responded, most of the companies said some employees have lost their homes, while some said they have lost or expect to lose customers that were based in affected neighborhoods. One business burned down entirely.
The fires displaced more than 100,000 people and killed 42 in Northern California, according to state officials, as well burning 8,400 structures and creating billions of dollars in insurance losses.
Anytime Fitness operates three locations in Sonoma County and saw many customers coming from Coffey Park, Larkfield and Mark West areas. Six of their employees lost their homes from the fires.
“While our our gyms were relatively unaffected structurally, it will be the loss of our member-base that will have the greatest impact on our business. These communities were highly effected by the recent fires and it will take months for us to get a true measure of the loss of business within our facilities,” Brett Livingstone, CEO of Anytime Fitness in Northern California, told the Business Times.
Dairy company Clover Sonoma, formerly Clover Stornetta, stationed some of its refrigerated food trucks at evacuation centers to keep food cold while electricity was out in the area. Clover employs 250 workers in the Sonoma area and said many of them lost their homes. The company set up an employee fire relief fund to give $25,000 to those who lost their homes.
“As a family owned and operated dairy based in Sonoma County for three generations, the wildfires have affected many of our employees, families and friends,” Marcus Benedetti, president and CEO of Clover Sonoma, told the Business Times.
About 25 miles outside the fire zone, Dominican University of California opened its recreation center to the Red Cross as a triage and refuge area as fires spread, said Chris Antons, director of institutional research at the university. More than 500 students and staff lived in affected counties.
“While the North Bay fires are ongoing and the full extent of the damage is not yet known, we know the impact is severe and the recovery will be extensive,” Mary B. Marcy, president of Dominican University of California, said.
Wineries in the region, which typically see a lot of visitors coming for year-end harvests and travel, have seen cancellations and fewer customers. J. Pedroncelli Wineries had to close for seven days during the fires and canceled a harvest event.
“We were concerned for our guests trying to get here, as well as the air quality,” said Jim Pedroncelli, owner of the winery. “We reopened Oct. 21 and this typically is a busy time for the wine country, but there are less people visiting us because of all the stories of devastation.”
The Wine Road, an association of 200 wineries and 54 hospitality businesses throughout Alexander, Dry Creek and Russian River, says it saw the most significant damage to its businesses in the Santa Rosa area.
Many of those wineries had no power to keep their cellars cool, and many members reported losing customers, Mysty Stewart, spokesperson for the association, told us. Many are getting cancellations, in some cases months in advance. Getting customers back in these wineries will be key to helping restaurants, farms and hotels back in business.
“Unfortunately, our organization's members are feeling the effects of the fires due to a the loss of customers. They need to sell wine to keep the doors open and to keep their personnel employed,” Stewart said.