Oaks Mall visitors might find themselves shopping in the dark if current trends continue.
According to Angie McCann, senior general manager at the Oaks Mall, the mall was affected by at least six power outages between March and September, most of which affected at least half of the mall. These outages, typically caused by severe weather and lightning, have lasted anywhere from 25 minutes to several hours, according to Tiffany Small, a representative from Gainesville Regional Utilities.
McCann wrote an email to Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Carter in September detailing her concerns about the frequent outages.
“We have spoken to our account representative each time, and have been given several different reasons including lighting strikes, etc.,” she wrote. “One or two outages, I can accept that reasoning, but not for every time.”
According to Small, five of the outages were related to weather or lightning storms, including Hurricane Hermine. Other causes include vegetation surrounding power lines and a microburst which caused the longest outage which was about six and a half hours.
“As you can imagine, this is a huge safety issue, as well as affecting the stores and their ability to do business,” McCann wrote. “It also creates a perception issue within the community.”
The mall is powered by two separate circuits, and one of those circuits being consistently targeted in these outages. This not only leaves half of the mall in darkness, but also causes stores like Belk to lose potential customers.
Pat Samuels, a Belk employee, said although customers are allowed to continue browsing and put their items on hold, they must wait until the lights return before they can check out. This results in many customers leaving prematurely.
“It hurts our business quite a bit. We lose sales,” Samuels said. “A lot of times [the customers] can get aggravated.”
Customers like 21-year-old Alyssa Short question why there is not a more secure energy source or backup generator.
“It’s Florida. It rains here a lot, so storms aren’t anything for us so you don’t think about it. I’m still going to go to the mall,” Short said. “Why is there an outage if it’s just raining?”
It’s questions like these that now pass through the minds of managers and store owners in the mall. “All of a sudden, especially this last year, whenever there’s a strong storm, we can just about guarantee that the lights are going to go out,” Samuels said.
With Hurricane Matthew on the horizon, another power outage is possible and organizations like GRU are preparing for the storm to hit. Rachel Meek, the GRU account representative for Oaks Mall, said safety is a huge concern for GRU which is why they have worked to get the lights back as soon as possible in each instance.
Currently, Meek’s main focus in improving communication with individual stores and the mall. Without that communication, she said there can be confusion and things can be blown out of proportion.
“There was a breakdown in communication that we now realize,” she said. “When I get calls from their tenants, I need to notify them so we can work together as a team.”