Open or close? Businesses face tough decisionFor the West Acres Shopping Center, the daily decision of whether to open or stay closed during flooding has been a difficult one.
By: Tracy Frank, INFORUM
For the West Acres Shopping Center, the daily decision of whether to open or stay closed during flooding has been a difficult one.
While the mall’s general manager opted to close several days last week, he reopened Monday with limited hours. The decision was based on the decreasing river threat and the fact that people who work at the mall say they need a paycheck, said Rusty Papachek, West Acres general manager.
But the mall’s decision to reopen didn’t go over well with Fargo Mayor Dennis Walaker and City Commissioner Tim Mahoney on Monday. Both expressed disappointment that the shopping center decided to stay open.
Fargo and Moorhead officials have been urging all non-essential businesses to remain closed until Wednesday for the health and safety of residents. They say the river still poses a threat and that traffic congestion created by shoppers and others could be problematic should an emergency arise.
The mall closed Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Half the stores closed Thursday, he said.
“A lot of those days we were closing just so volunteers would go help the flood-fighting effort,” he said.
Papachek said it has been tough on businesses to be closed so many days.
“It’s understandable. The community just went through a record flood,” he said. “It’s not business as usual and we have no expectation that it will be in the short term.”
Papachek said he doesn’t think the mall closed during the 1997 flood.
And, he said the mall’s restaurants, as well as Sears, Walgreens, Innovis Health, West Acres Pharmacy, and cell phone stores could be considered essential.
For other non-retail businesses around town, the decision to open, close, or cut back hasn’t been as tough.
“It was a no-brainer for us. This is a special circumstance,” said Tina Amerman, Bobcat human resources manager. “We knew we would play a big part in the flood effort.”
Bobcat operated with a skeleton crew while most employees volunteered to sandbag or operate equipment. Bobcat paid employees as usual.
“It removes the stress from the situation to know that you can help and you’re being forgiven for that work that you’re not doing,” said Alissa Bosse of Bobcat.
“The corporate culture is roll your sleeves up and get to work,” said Rob Otterson of Bobcat, who spent last week operating Bobcat machines in the flood fight.
Flint Communications also operated with a skeleton crew and paid employees who could not work.
“In advertising you have a lot of deadlines and a lot of demands,” said Chris Hagen, public relations director. “We’re using our other offices or those employees who have their laptops at home to make sure that we can get the work done.”
GEM and Intelligent InSites closed to let employees volunteer and paid them for those days. DMI had employees split time between work and sandbagging and paid them for a full workday.
Some, like Sid Harrison of Harland Financial Solutions, worked from home.
Both Microsoft Fargo and Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota gave employees 16 hours of paid time to volunteer.
Microsoft Fargo closed last Thursday and plans to reopen this Thursday. The company is paying employees those days, said Katie Hasbargen, communications manager.
“The nice thing with working for a technology company is that we are set up with the ability to complete our day-to-day job activities from our home,” said Shawn Nulph, Microsoft escalation engineer.
Blue Cross Blue Shield closed Friday, but opened Monday. Employees were allowed to stay home and were given extra paid time off if necessary.
“In many ways we are an essential business because we have providers and members who are counting on us,” said Denise Kolpack, spokeswoman.
MeritCare employees have either used paid time off hours or taken unpaid time off. Employees without enough PTO can carry a negative balance of up to 80 hours. They have until June 30, 2010, to “repay” it.
“Our goal has been to get as many employees back to work as soon as possible, so many have also been volunteering to do work outside of their normal roles,” said Carrie Haug, MeritCare spokeswoman.
What is an essential business?
Essential businesses as defined by the city of Fargo: gas stations, grocery stores, restaurants, hardware stores and necessary medical supply stores.
Forum reporter Dave Olson contributed to this report.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Tracy Frank at (701) 241-5526