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Storm packs hotels, keeps staffs hopping

Restaurants aim to reopen; Kroger calls in generators

By Jessica Seaman

This article was published December 28, 2012 at 12:02 a.m.

— The 120 rooms at the Courtyard by Marriott in downtown Little Rock are filled with people seeking shelter after Tuesday night’s winter storm left many in central Arkansas without electricity.

But most of the hotel’s staff are struggling to get to work because the icy roads have made traveling difficult and risky.

So assistant manager Chris Rule is going out three times in the morning — 4, 7 and 9 a.m. — to pick up his employees. At 3, 5 and 6 p.m. — he takes them back to their homes.

“I need them here, and they need to be here so we have staff here,” Rule said.

Many hotels in the Little Rock area are booked to capacity and short-staffed after heavy snow and ice Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning left many without power and the roads slippery.

By 9:30 a.m. Wednesday, the rooms at the Courtyard by Marriott, at 521 President Clinton Ave., were spoken for. The hotel received about 1,000 calls that day from people searching for accommodations, Rule said.

“Most of which were turned away because we simply don’t have the space,” he said.

On Thursday, the hotel’s rooms were booked by 6 a.m., Rule said.

Most people are booking their rooms by the night because they don’t know when their power will be restored, he said.

“We anticipated it to be busy, but it was a little more hectic than Riverfest,” he said. “[Wednesday] I shoveled cars out of snow.”

The Courtyard by Marriott has 45 employees on its payroll, but only about 20 work on a daily basis. This week only about 13 have been available because of the snow.

An employee is staying at the hotel because there was no electricity at his house, Rule said. Rule, who lives in west Little Rock, said he was also staying in a room to make it easier to run the hotel, but he gave it up to make room for a customer.

The 251 suites at the Embassy Suites in Little Rock were also filled for Thursday and Friday, said Ginny Moulton, director of sales for the hotel.

Embassy Suites, at 11301 Financial Centre Parkway, ordered extra food and had staff members stay at the hotel Christmas night to prepare for the storm, she said.

“We actually listened to the weather last week and, based on that, made plans accordingly,” Moulton said. “We are anticipating a full house into the weekend.”

People started booking rooms at the Hilton Garden Inn in North Little Rock on Christmas Day, said Rhonda Powell, front-office manager for the hotel at 4100 Glover Lane.

The 119-room hotel was filled Thursday afternoon. The hotel is not fully staffed, so several employees are staying the night to assure there are enough employees available, Powell said.

“We’re scrambling,” she said.

The Peabody Little Rock hotel at 200 W. Markham St. normally has 50 to 75 rooms filled the day after Christmas. On Wednesday almost all 418 rooms were booked. The hotel had some rooms available at 1 p.m. Thursday, said Bruce Skidmore, director of sales and marketing.

Other businesses in central Arkansas have also been trying to get operations back to normal after losing power earlier in the week.

Mark Abernathy, the owner of Loca Luna and the Red Door Restaurant in Little Rock, said the restaurants would open today after they lost power Tuesday night. The restaurants remained closed through Thursday because Abernathy didn’t want his employees traveling on icy roads.

“We got our power on [Wednesday], but I’m still a little worried about employees getting out and getting home,” he said. “For me it’s not worth making a little bit of money for one day to put them at risk.”

Eleven of the Kroger Co. stores in central Arkansas lost power Wednesday evening. On Thursday, four of the stores in Little Rock were still without power.

“We have generators coming from Memphis to power all of those stores and will probably be up with power by 6 or 7 o’clock [Thursday],” said Joe Jeruzal, director of retail operations for the company’s Delta Division.

Jeruzal said separate generators are being brought in so the gasoline stations at the closed Kroger stores could also reopen.

The Kroger stores closed Thursday were at 1100 E. Roosevelt Road, 10300 N. Rodney Parham Road, 8824 Geyer Springs Road and 315 N. Shackleford Road. The pharmacy and gas station were closed at the Kroger at 14000 Cantrell Road.

Kroger has to dispose of all food items that required refrigeration at the closed stores. That includes fresh produce, meat, seafood, dairy and frozen foods.

“We throw everything out and basically start fresh,” and the stores will be replenished when power is restored, Jeruzal said.

Business, Pages 21 on 12/28/2012

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