Tahoe Valley businesses discuss winter struggles

Kayla Anderson / Special to the Tribune
Cuppa Tahoe in The Crossing shopping center.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Calif. — On Valentine’s Day morning, Cuppa Tahoe owner Sandra Santané stood in front of the South Lake Tahoe City Council, talking about the issues her business has encountered over the last few months with losing power. She’s afraid that her and other small businesses will continue to suffer if there isn’t some kind of additional support. 

“We’re a business that caters to the community and tourists as well. I’m here to ask for help for small businesses and restaurants in South Lake Tahoe,” Santané said. “I want to address the power outages, and I’m wondering if there are any subsidies available for at least a generator.”

Santané went on to say that Cuppa Tahoe lost thousands of dollars in revenue during COVID and now the loss of power over the New Year’s holiday is continuing to greatly affect her business.  

“Even if we lose power for an hour, we lose the rest of the day in revenue,” Santané said. 

And even when Cuppa Tahoe is the only business with power, that can be just as bad. 

“People come in and they’re angry, and unhappy people don’t spend money,” she says. 

As a bookstore/coworking space/café in the community, many people regularly go to Cuppa Tahoe to eat, drink, read, and work, therefore having consistent power is paramount to the success of her business. 

Another longtime South Lake Tahoe resident and business owner, Kenny Curtzwiler, who spoke after Santané added, “We need to have emergency solutions in place to help small businesses. We need to give quality experiences to new residents and tourists.”

Earthwise Pet in The Crossing shopping center.
Bill Rozak/Tahoe Daily Tribune

Heating Issues Next Door at Earthwise Pet

Next door to Cuppa Tahoe, Earthwise Pet Nutrition Center & Wellness Spa also lost a boatload of money over the holidays due to the gas lines constantly being shut off. The first gas leak/line shutdown happened the day after Christmas, and the pet store went 18 days, Dec. 26 to Feb. 2, without gas. 

“We closed all week because we have a hot water heater for our grooming and self-wash services. That’s a third of our business, but people tend to buy other items when they’re in here too. So not having hot water during that time … it was a nightmare,” says Earthwise Pet Owner Julie Shaw. “For grooming, we’re literally boiling water in a microwave to wash a few dogs, and we’ve had to reschedule a bunch of people,” Shaw adds. 

Earthwise Pet lost $5,400 in self-wash services alone, and then she got the gas bill. 

“It was $1,100 even though we had 18 days without gas,” Shaw says, noting that the bill is normally in the $50-$60 per month range. She said that the gas company wouldn’t reverse the charges, but her landlord eventually gave her a credit towards rent. 

When asked if there was anything she thought the city could do to mitigate the gas issues, Shaw believed that maybe the city could provide some kind of building code enforcement but believes that the hazardous conditions that exist fall more with the landlord. 

“I would think with our kind of snow load … I can’t believe we have gas lines that break four times in 18 days,” Shaw said. 

She explains that the gas lines were likely put in when the shopping center was built decades ago and sit 4-5 inches off the roof with little to no support, so heavy snow loads can break them easily causing a gas leak. 

The most recent one was last Friday, Feb. 10, at Big 5 Sporting Goods when the fire department had to come out. Not clearing the roof (or the parking lot) of snow also causes other hazards including sliding off onto the sidewalks where people enter the businesses and a heightened potential for fender benders in the parking lot. 

“We closed completely when the power was out, but it didn’t affect me nearly as much as the gas lines,” Shaw said. “For me it falls on the landlord and failure to clear the roof and parking lot. From the gas company and landlord management we just get a lot of excuses. If these gas lines have been in place since the 70s then I don’t know why it’s such an issue this year.”

The City response

Since the comments Santané brought up at the Feb. 14 council meeting was not an agendized item, there was no discussion about it except for City Manager Joe Irvin bringing it up at the end of the meeting. 

He said he wasn’t quite clear about what Santané was requesting, and that the city doesn’t really have any subsidies available to support the loss of money from power outages. He added that his team is working with the planning commission to investigate noise levels caused by different generators, but that he just needs to reach out to the restaurant group to get a better sense of what they are requesting. 

Irvin reiterated that he is empathetic to what the small business community is going through but he’s not sure what they are asking of the city, and he’s afraid of misinformation being circulated about its capabilities regarding helping out small businesses.

“The city is aware that businesses have concerns, and I am trying to determine how and when to meet with them,” Irvin said. 

Later that afternoon, Santané reflected on her public comments in the Feb. 14 city council meeting.

“The way it was received, I felt heard,” she said. “One of the things I wanted to have come across, is that it’s not just about generators … it’s costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and creating a bad tourism experience [when there are power issues]. Keeping small businesses open are the cornerstones of our community. I know that the city is looking at long term options, but we need a short term solution now.”

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