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On-The-Ground Assessment Of Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath By One Of NY-NJ’s Leading Retailers

As the Pundit has been jetting around Asia, our friends and family in the Northeast have been struggling with the aftermath of the storm. We work closely with Paul Kneeland, Vice President of Produce & Floral of Kings Food Markets and Chairman of the Conference Committee at the Eastern Produce Council, with whom we present The New York Produce Show and Conference.

Kings is right at the epicenter of the storm, and Paul was kind enough to send an update:

What a week……

Good news is that most everyone is safe — Staten Island, the Rockaways — not so lucky.

Hoboken was ravaged too — there was a sailboat in a parking lot — Four feet of water raced up the streets. Sidewalks are littered with soaked, ruined furniture and belongings 

We lost power to 17 stores at the height of the storm. Six generators helped save some — we lost all perishable product in 11 of our stores.

We are still (as of Sunday AM) out of power in two stores and the six generators have been moved around to bring stores back on line as full power is restored. Some stores’ full power is expected by the end of the week.

It is a disaster down here, but we will all survive. Gas is a huge issue and rationing started yesterday — I waited 2 1/2 hours in line on Friday. Cell phone service is spotty — some likened it to the days after 9-11.

Nerves are frayed and patience is no longer evident.

Looting has started but just small factions — we cannot leave anything outside the stores. Thieves know power is out and battery backup is out on security systems. Generator theft is commonplace. And gas siphoning is happening all over.

If you ever saw the movie Mad Max — it is kind of like that.

We have worked hard to get all our stores open to provide the basic necessities to our neighborhoods. Our competition often cannot react the way we have. They don’t have the same flexibility.

Pallets of ice sitting on sales floors would never be considered, for example, but we still can’t keep up. One store received 18 pallets of firewood, and it was gone in two hours.

Despite all that, we had positive sales! And we beat our budget! That is with ten stores being closed last Tuesday….

There is my update from the newest Federal Disaster area — New Jersey!

All is as well as could be expected!

— Paul Kneeland
Vice President of Produce and Floral
Kings Food Markets

Our heart goes out, of course, to all those who have been affected by the storm.

Living in Florida, we have gone through some of this, and it is frustrating that some lessons are never learned. Gas stations, for example, should always be built with back-up generators and hooked up to natural gas sources.

In our mind, these big natural disasters also give a lie to the notion that the big divide in the country is over the size of government. To us, the problem with expansive government is not so much size as that a government that tries to do everything will probably do nothing well.

Keeping the peace, having supplies of fuel and water ready… these are core obligations of the government — right up there close to national defense.

When they report the losses for Fresh & Easy, these don’t include the enormous managerial distraction that this division has caused Tesco. Equally, the issue is not whether supporting Big Bird is worthwhile, nor even, as Romney claimed, whether we have the money to do it. The issue is whether we have taken care of Job One.

We would rather have a government competent and successful in areas it undertakes, rather than spread out all over and then run out of water reserves or with madhouse gas giveaways on the Brooklyn Coast Guard base.

Even something like the Stimulus, so hotly debated, is upsetting in no small part because we spent trillion dollars and have little to show for it.

In this case — and in Florida hurricanes — much damage is caused because electrical wires are above ground. Had we decided to spend the stimulus to do something — say put all the electric wire underground — Obama would be way ahead right now in every poll. But instead, the stimulus was mostly a payoff to various constituencies, and not one citizen in a thousand could name even one permanent improvement made as a result of the expenditure.

We should note that we have absolutely no reason to believe the Republicans would have done better, but we would like to see government that was more focused and competent and not trying to bribe every constituency out there.

For now, our focus is on next month’s unveiling of The New York Produce Show and Conference.

The Pier and hotels are undamaged, and Manhattan has most of its electric back. But we want to use this event as a focus to move the region forward after this storm.

Destruction is horrid and painful, but it sometimes clears the deck for reconstruction and new ways of thinking. It causes us to reassess how we do business and how we live our lives.

With dozens of workshops, hundreds of exhibits and thousands of minds, we are going to turn The New York event into a fulcrum of creativity and ingenuity: Call it PRODUCE INDUSTRY FORWARD: Where we go from here.

Come be part of the conversation. You can register right here.

And many thanks to Paul Kneeland for taking time amidst all the hassle to brief the industry on the situation at the epicenter of the crisis.


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