NAPLES — When George Corzine III, the manager of Grill & Fill in East Naples, arrived at work Friday morning, a line of customers awaited him.
It only got busier from there.
The frenzy followed a major line break on Thursday that left 7,000 TECO customers without gas service in Lee and Collier counties.
While the outage hurt some business, especially hotels and restaurants, it was a boon for others, including high-end kitchenware shops.
In North Naples, Sur La Table at the Mercato and Williams-Sonoma at the Waterside Shops, were busy selling convection ovens and other cooking gear, as restaurants tried to make do without gas.
At Grill & Fill in East Naples, Corzine estimates that he sold 400 to 500 propane tanks on Friday. A second store off J and C Boulevard in Naples was just as slammed.
“We are busier than we have been in a long time,” Corzine said.
Customers were also buying grills and refilling their tanks. There were six of them waiting at the door when Corzine arrived at his store at 8:30 a.m. He could hardly catch his breath again until 1 p.m., when business finally slowed down a bit.
“As the day progressed, I was shocked,” Corzine said. “The new tanks, they went out the door as fast we got them in.”
Some tanks are left, but both stores are “getting slim on them,” Corzine said. New shipments should soon arrive.
Stores selling Blue Rhino propane tanks also saw a jump in business as a result of the gas outage.
At Sunshine Ace Hardware stores in Collier County, there was a rush on propane and butane tanks, and small grills. More portable stoves are on order, with supplies dwindling, and more adapters should arrive by Tuesday that convert natural gas stoves to propane.
Most of the demand came from other businesses, especially restaurants, who are scrambling to stay open and keep their customers happy.
“This is really traumatizing some businesses,” said Michael Wynn, president of Sunshine Ace Hardware Inc. “This is their livelihood.”
The TECO gas explosion hasn’t just hurt hotels and restaurants. Bakeries have lost business too.
Without gas, more than two dozen Publix grocery stores couldn’t bake their usual breads, muffins and cakes.
“We have about 30 stores that are affected in the Naples and Fort Myers area,” Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Publix, said early Friday.
Business at the Publix delis has took a hit because the stores couldn’t bake bread for their popular subs.
“We are in the process of trying to move around product,” Brous said.
That required renting trucks and increasing bread routes.
Not all of its bakeries have been affected in Southwest Florida. “It may be that we extend the hours of production at other bakeries,” Brous said.
She said all the stores south of State Road 80 lost gas service.
Lee County’s public schools weren’t affected. Collier’s were closed.
Florida Gulf Coast University and Edison State College didn’t see any impact.
Local hospitals have made the best of it, finding other sources for hot water.
The NCH Healthcare System, which owns two hospitals, converted its boiler system, which is used for hot water, from natural gas to diesel, said Debbie Curry, a company spokeswoman.
“I know patient care has not been affected,” she said.
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