Restaurants cope with gas outage
Some close, others offer limited menu
699 5th Avenue South, Naples, FL
NAPLES — Most days, Phil McCabe doesn’t need all five full bathrooms at his home on Gulf Shore Boulevard in Naples. But Friday wasn’t most days.
A ruptured natural gas line in Fort Myers had hotels all over Southwest Florida apologizing to guests for cold showers and scrambling to keep clean sheets on their beds on a busy tourist weekend.
McCabe, the owner of the Inn on Fifth on Fifth Avenue South, took hospitality a step further, offering his home’s powder room provisions as a less chilling alternative — one 20-minute time slot at a time.
Inn on Fifth guest Joe Brannigan put his razor and shaving gel in a plastic bag and happily climbed into the hotel’s black Cadillac Escalade with his wife, Claire, for the shuttle ride to salvation a few blocks away.
Brannigan, a state senator from Maine, said he didn’t think a cold shower would have been that bad, but couldn’t resist McCabe’s offer.
“The water’s not very cold here compared to home,” Brannigan said.
The Brannigans shrugged off the inconvenience, but McCabe braced for disaster as the cancellations started coming in late Friday afternoon to 86-room hotel with no word on when the gas would be back on.
“It is a crisis, it really is,” McCabe said.
Besides his bathrooms doing double duty, a housekeeper was busy turning McCabe’s oversized washer and dryer into a back-up hotel laundry room.
The gas line break crippled some hotels but spared others that either didn’t rely on gas service or used propane.
Marco Island, which is not supplied with natural gas, was open for business as usual, according to the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce.
“We’re fine,” Chamber administrative coordinator Donna Niemczyk said.
The Marco Island Marriott Beach Resort pitched in to help its sister properties in Naples, including the Ritz-Carlton beach and golf resorts.
The Marriott is taking 20,000 pounds of laundry per day from the Ritz and has made rooms available for guests staying at the Ritz and LaPlaya in Naples who want to move, the Marriott’s sales and marketing director Robert Pfeffer said.
“We’re all in this business together,” he said. “We’re here to help.”
At the Naples Beach Hotel and Golf Club, general manager Jason Parsons was juggling a wedding, a bar mitzvah and three corporate groups from a gas-less kitchen.
Parsons compared going without gas to the aftermath of a hurricane.
“We’ve been full steam ahead and working like crazy,” he said.
The switchboard lit up at DiamondHead Beach Resort and Spa on Fort Myers Beach as tourists woke Friday morning and began looking for refuge from the gas outage, general manager Neil Hopgood said.
“It’s starting to settle in,” he said.
The resort, which runs on propane, sold its last 10 rooms for Friday night and expected to sell its last 30 rooms for Saturday night too, he said.
Among DiamondHead resort’s transplants Friday was a 40-person wedding rehearsal dinner that had to be moved from another hotel without gas service.
Collier County Tourism Director Jack Wert said hotels are packed this weekend as they try to manage the gas outage.
“It’s one of our busiest weekends,” Wert said.
A senior softball tournament has filled up a lot of the hotels this weekend, and a large lacrosse event next weekend will do the same, he said.
“That just adds to the concern about this gas explosion,” he said.
McCabe, at the Inn on Fifth, said the gas debacle is coming just as the tourism industry is bouncing back from this summer’s BP oil spill and on the cusp of a series of busy November weekends.
“It’s a kick in the knees,” McCabe said. “It could be worse. It could be February.”
In the lobby, a group of women debated whether to brave the showers or look for another place to stay.
“They’ve got ice cream and booze,” said Michele Haran, of Austin, Texas. “What else do you need on vacation?”
Sheri Principato, of Chicago, had a bit of creative traveling in mind.
“I was thinking grilled cheese with the iron,” she said.
Staff writers Laura Layden and Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster contributed to this story.
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