‘Ottawa can’t catch a break’: Businesses say Saturday’s wicked storm brings back memories of 2018 tornadoes

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Saturday’s devastating storm that knocked the lights out at tens of thousands of homes and businesses across the city delivered a powerful feeling of deja vu to Jacqui Okum.

“It was like, ‘Oh God, here’s the tornado again,’” the founder and CEO of Strawberry Blonde Bakery told OBJ Tuesday afternoon, referring to the massive winds that tore through the region in September 2018 and knocked out power for several days at her store that was then located on Wellington Street West. 

“Ottawa can’t catch a break. It’s one thing after another.”

But after surveying her losses following the latest major storm to hit the city, Okum said she was counting her blessings. Strawberry Blonde’s current Westboro location on Richmond Road never lost power, while hydro was restored to her Silver Seven Road store in Kanata South early Monday morning. 

“Had it gone past the 48-hour mark, we would have been in a lot more trouble than we were,” she said. 

Even so, while Okum was able to move some perishable goods from her Kanata location to the Westboro store, she still had to throw out several hundred dollars worth of produce such as fruits and vegetables as well as cinnamon buns, bagels and pizza dough that had spoiled. 

But the harder blow was having to shut down the Kanata store on what would normally be a busy long weekend. 

“The day before Victoria Day is usually a pretty good day,” Okum said, estimating she missed out on at least a couple thousand dollars in sales on Sunday. “So that was the biggest loss for sure.” 

While Okum was getting things back up and running on Silver Seven Road on Tuesday, a few kilometres farther north, Stewart Cattroll was assessing the storm’s impact on his business’s operations.

Cattroll is the co-owner of the Freshii restaurant on Klondike Road in Kanata North, which lost power for about 48 hours before it was restored late Monday afternoon. For a business that relies on fridges being fully stocked with fresh produce, that was long enough to spoil pretty much everything in stock.

Jacqui
Jacqui Okum, owner of Strawberry Blonde, had to close her Kanata store due to Saturday's extreme weather. Photo by Marianne Rothbauer from Rothbauer Studio

“It’s a total loss of inventory,” Cattroll said. “Everything that was in the fridge is essentially a total writeoff. We need to do a total resupply to be able to reopen again.”

Like Okum, Cattroll considered himself somewhat fortunate in that the lights stayed on at the other Freshii location he co-owns on Bank Street in Centretown. But he still figures he had to destroy north of $1,500 worth of produce and has already lost out on several thousand dollars in sales while he waits to restock his Kanata eatery.

Saturday’s wicked thunderstorm also brought back memories of four years ago for Cattroll, whose Kanata location lost power for several days in the wake of the tornadoes.

“This happened to us in 2018, and it’s happening again now,” he said.

After two-plus years of on-again, off-again COVID-related lockdowns and the fallout from the Freedom Convoy protests earlier this year, last weekend’s storm added insult to injury for many Ottawa retailers and restaurateurs, Cattroll said.

“It’s been a hell of a time for small business owners and restaurants in Ontario and in Ottawa in particular over the last little while,” he said. “It’s been a crazy two years. It’s one more thing that piles on to an already fragile business situation.

“It’s almost like a feeling of resignation at this point, to be honest. Compared to what we’ve had to deal with over the last two years, this is unfortunate, but we’ll get through it.”

Okum agreed.

“I was talking to my parents yesterday and I was like, ‘It’s a couple thousand bucks,’” she said. “In the grand scheme of things, that’s not even worth an insurance claim. It could have been a lot worse. I feel very, very lucky. My heart goes out to the other businesses that still aren’t up yet.”