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It could have been much worse

The biggest blackout ever to hit the US was one for the history books.

But luckily for home textiles suppliers, it won't linger as a painful memory to their pocketbooks.

When the power surge struck the Northeast region of the U.S. suddenly last Thursday afternoon (Aug. 14), it left millions of people and thousands of businesses without electricity, including the manufacturing, warehousing and distribution facilities of many home textiles suppliers — among them, New York-based Hellenic Rug Imports in Brooklyn, Elrene Home Fashions in the Bronx and Saddle Brook, NJ-based Nourison.

But with power restored in most of the region by Friday afternoon, home textiles suppliers told Home Textiles Today that their businesses felt only minor effects to the incident, with little or no production time lost as a result.

Here's what some area suppliers had to say about their experience with the Blackout of 2003:

Steve Mazarakis, president, Hellenic Rug Imports, Brooklyn, NY

I wasn't even [in New York]. I was in Kansas City for the opening of a new Nebraska Furniture Mart, so I missed the whole thing.

In Brooklyn, the lights did go out and we did lose some production time. But it's not a major setback. It's just a temporary thing.

What I did learn is that we do need to implement a back-up system now for when this happens next time because I couldn't get through to my staff on the phones for a long time.

Matt Blitz, advertising director, Nourison, Saddle Brook, NJ

"We lost power for about an hour at about 4:15 p.m.

We have lost some production time to do things like reset the computers. But it's been a minor inconvenience. Today [Friday, Aug. 15] 75 percent of our office staff is here and our entire warehousing staff is all present."

Barry Leonard, president, Ex-Cell Home Fashions, New York

"I was lucky. I got on standby for a 1:30 p.m. flight and made it. I was supposed to leave at 4 p.m. but I finished up an appointment early with a retailer and was able to leave earlier [for Charlotte].

The only thing is that I haven't been able to speak to anyone [of the 40 staffers] in our New York offices. But it hasn't affected our production at all."

Brian Siegel, evp, Elrene Home Fashions, New York

"Our plant in the Bronx was evacuated and we lost some production time. But it's been minor. I don't expect it to be much of a problem at all for us."

Valborg Linn, independent area and accent rug designer, New York

"I was at my studio assembling my new promotional materials for my new rug collection, which launches late this fall. I thought at first I had blown a fuse but then went out to the street and saw everyone was in my same situation.

"I was lucky because I had already printed out what I needed to work on for now."

Arthur Tauber, founder and chairman, Avanti Linens, Moonachie, NJ

"My wife and I were on our way to an alumni reunion for the University of Vermont — that's where I graduated from. We were driving into the city in the Lincoln Tunnel when the lights went out.

"It took us an hour to get across town to the boat where we were meeting. Out of 100 people, only seven showed up. So we were seven people in a boat that fit 200 riding on the river taking great pictures of the city and of the Statue of Liberty. It was a great time. We were done at 11 p.m., and then we got in the car and drove right home — no traffic.

"In 1977, when we had the last big blackout, I was in Italy, so I missed that one altogether."

Paul Bruggemann, plant manager, Avanti Linens, Moonachie, NJ

"Our offices are open today [Friday, Aug. 15] and we have about 85 percent of our staff here.

"We never lost power and our night shift for the embroideries worked straight through the night with no interruptions. We never experienced a speed bump.

"I lost power at home, so I came to work at 4 a.m. to watch TV and get some air conditioning."

Merle Johnson, vp, marketing, Mohawk Home, New York

"I could not get my car out of the parking garage because the elevators were out so I went and had a few beers with my son Andrew. We decided it would be a long night, so I had Andrew call his dad in Texas to get a message to Sarah [her daughter] that we would be walking to her place on 73rd Street. We got there about 7:30 p.m., went to get a pizza down the street where there was a gas oven, waited an hour in line for it as it was the only place that had food. Then we went to a street party.

"[Mohawk Home's vp, sales, department and specialty stores] Tom Merriman ended up sleeping at 295 at our showroom/offices. He didn't get home until 7 a.m."

Neil Zuber, president, Ashford Court, New York

"I was in a car with a buyer entering the Lincoln Tunnel (from NJ into NYC) when the lights went out. I dropped him off at 47th and 7th and then went to our showroom at 295 where we picked up a big flashlight we keep there. I ended up spending the night in the city [Zuber lives in Suffolk County, Long Island].

"Amy Bell [design director and principal, who lives in Florida] was in town and we finally got her on a flight out of the Islip airport."

Jennifer Buffalo, vp, merchandise, Santens of America Inc., Anderson, SC

"I was in town to meet with some buyers. Although most people evacuated from the 295 building, our design director and I were able to stay in our showroom because it's on the first floor. I'm trying to get a flight to DC and then from there renting a car and driving back home.

"It's been a blast, I'll tell you that!"

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