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Kylie Vatthauer begins the task of digging her car out of the snow on Third Street S. in downtown Grand Forks Tuesday morning after Monday's blizzard dumped a foot of snow on the city.JOHN STENNES/GRAND FORKS HERALD

Area digs out from Blizzard Gigi, with some firms feeling hit to bottom line

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It may be sunny and warm back in his home in Ohio, but on Tuesday, Daniel Frank was in the same boat as the rest of the Upper Red River Valley.

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Frank, president of the Lambda Chi Alpha fraternity on the UND campus, was cleaning a path for his Jeep. But with classes canceled until at least 4:30 p.m., there was only one goal in mind: finding some breakfast.

“I knew it was supposed to be bad,” Frank said of the 12 inches that were dumped on Grand Forks Monday and early Tuesday. Parts of northwest Minnesota received up to 18 inches in the storm.

Cars across the Greater Grand Forks area were blocked in Tuesday and required help from law enforcement and helpful bystanders after Blizzard Gigi swept over the region.

With residential streets piled high with snow and so many stuck at home, the blizzard had a wide-ranging impact on local businesses, many of which were either closed the past two days or delayed opening hours. Some businesses were able to regain most of their employees Tuesday while others were left with none at all.

Jay Potulny, general manager of Eide Motors in Grand Forks, said when snow like this arrives, all employees have to help move it out.

“In the car business, you know you have to work,” he said.

Bad for business?

Although some employees stayed home Tuesday, others spent the day shoveling at work.

Nearly all employees at Eide Motors in Grand Forks arrived at work to help push out the dealership’s cars from tightly packed snow and shovel around them. On a normal day, they might spend three or four hours doing this, buton Tuesday, they knew it would last all day, said Potulny.

“This is the worst we’ve had it all year,” he said.

Bad weather has an effect on sales, too. Potulny noted some nearly sealed deals were lost over the long weekend because of people changing their minds, he said.

“It’s tough to end the month on a note like that,” he said.

In some cases, businesses and employees both lost money. Merry Maids in Grand Forks was forced to cancel about 60 appointments over the past two days, and on Tuesday only managed to have about three or four of its 25 employees available, said manager Kayla Otteson. Employees don’t get paid if they can’t show up.

With schools canceling more often this winter, it’s been hard for the employees, mostly working mothers, to find places to bring their children, she said.

“We just try to reschedule our customers the best we can,” she said.

As expected, calls for tow truck and snow removal services have been exceptionally high. Michael Gornowicz, manager of Fert-L-Lawn in East Grand Forks, said he hasn’t slept for the past few days because he’s been arranging snow removal work for his 26 employees.

For his business and several others, it’s been one of the more successful winters they’ve experienced.

“If you were interested in getting into the snow removal business, this would have been the year to do it,” he said.

Still, he and Scott Volker, manager of Scott’s Snow Removal and Lawn Care in Grand Forks, said the higher amounts of snow and colder weather can cause equipment to break down more frequently.

“Sometimes, I actually make more money when it doesn’t snow because a lot of people are on contracts,” Volker said. “But overall, it’s been a success.”     

Crucial help

Law enforcement in Grand Forks and East Grand Forks were also out in full force, pulling out cars on residential roads or highways and helping out the city’s most crucial workers.

From Devils Lake to northwest Minnesota, which stretches to Lake of the Woods, highway troopers from both states reported a total 12 crashes or property accidents and about 42 stranded motorists.

The Minnesota State Highway Patrol reported a majority of the stranded vehicles and crashes. With near-zero visibility, the number of accidents was higher than average, with about 35 cars requiring a tow truck, according to Sgt. Jesse Grabow.

“When we put out no-travel advisories, we would really hope that people take note of that,” he said.

East Grand Forks police reported no accidents but helped pull out “too many people to count” last night, according to one officer, while the Grand Forks Police Department reported eight accidents and 14 people who were stranded.

Meanwhile, Altru Health System’s ambulance service struggled to respond to 13 calls in both cities as they traveled through snow-clogged residential areas.

One patient in East Grand Forks was delayed by about 30 minutes en route to the hospital because the ambulance got stuck, said Art Culver, ambulance manager.

Fortunately, the fire and police departments in East Grand Forks quickly worked to get a tow truck to pull out the ambulance, and the patient’s health was not threatened by the delay, he said. Afterward, the city stationed a plow by an ambulance so 911 calls could be answered immediately.

Overall, hospital staff reported to work on time and emergency room staff were prepared, said hospital officials. Altru clinics opened at 10 a.m. on Tuesday.

People also resumed their normal lives Tuesday, or tried to. Back at the fraternity, UND student Maddison Linn was lamenting the weather’s implications for a formal dance planned for this weekend.

“I bought heels when I should have got boots,” she said.

Staff writer John Hageman contributed to this report.

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Jennifer Johnson
Jennifer Johnson is the K-12 education reporter for The Grand Forks Herald.  Contact her if you have any story ideas or tips and visit www.grandforksherald.com. 
(701) 787-6736
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