Schenectady County

Electricity back on at Rotterdam Square

Stores across the mall lost business Thursday after a large outstanding electric bill prompted Natio
Ninety Nine Restaurant Kitchen Manager Dan Shaw serves up a meal as the dinner rush takes hold in the Rotterdam Square Mall Friday, February 13, 2015.
Ninety Nine Restaurant Kitchen Manager Dan Shaw serves up a meal as the dinner rush takes hold in the Rotterdam Square Mall Friday, February 13, 2015.

Charlie Noyes, president of the Ninety Nine Restaurant & Pub chain, put the damages in the thousands of dollars — not including all the business his Rotterdam Square location lost Thursday when National Grid switched off power to the struggling West Campbell Road mall.

Noyes’ estimate referred to the wages and tips roughly 40 Rotterdam employees lost as a result of the closure two days before Valentine’s Day, during what he called one of the restaurant’s busiest times of the year. Holiday specials started Wednesday, he said.

“I would consider it devastating,” he said.

Noyes said the business lost was “significant.”

“We haven’t even totaled that up yet,” he said Friday morning, as restaurant workers prepared to reopen in time for lunch at 1 p.m. “We’re just focused on getting the doors open today and getting people back to work right now.”

Stores across the mall lost business Thursday after a large outstanding electric bill prompted National Grid to cut the power — only Macy’s, Sears and Kmart, which pay their own electric bills, still had power.

Noyes said the restaurant had to quickly have dry ice shipped in to keep frozen food from spoiling Thursday. He said restaurant workers learned the power would be cut “when National Grid showed up to turn the power off.”

“We had no notice,” he said.

Power was restored to the entire mall Friday morning after owner Mike Kohan paid the remainder of the outstanding bill, which he said totaled $300,000.

“We sincerely apologize to the stores and the shoppers for the inconvenience yesterday, and Rotterdam Square has reopened and will be open normal mall hours,” general manager Terri Emond said in a statement. “Thanks for your continued support.”

Emond said the mall kept its doors shut and ran generators overnight — when temperatures outside dropped significantly — to prevent any physical damage to the infrastructure.

“We were able to sustain the temperature so we didn’t have any issues,” she said.

Kohan, whose Long Island-based Kohan Retail Investment Group purchased the mall for $8.5 million in January 2014, also apologized.

“I want to express my apology, my absolute apology, to the stores,” he said.

But he refused to take responsibility for the outage, saying he was hit with a $480,000 bill in the fall after a meter wasn’t billed for eight months.

“That’s what happened,” he said. “Under no circumstance did we want that situation to happen. Unfortunately, when somebody puts you against the wall for such a big amount, there’s not much you can do.”

Kohan said paying the hefty bill while also keeping up with monthly utility payments wasn’t possible at first.

“It was just a Catch 22 for us,” he said.

National Grid spokesman Patrick Stella said differently.

“The mall has been billed monthly for many years,” Stella said in a statement. “Our records show no gap in billing or any meter for the mall that had not been billed.”

Kohan also said he wired the money to the utility on Thursday after being notified that morning power was being shut off. While National Grid said the mall was put on notice Wednesday, Kohan said he heard “nothing concrete” from the utility until Thursday morning and that National Grid’s actions were “premature.”

In November, one week before Black Friday, the mall’s power was nearly shut down over the same outstanding bill, but Kohan intervened and paid $100,000 toward the balance, he said at the time.

“The whole thing was just very unfair to us and unfair to our tenants,” Kohan said Friday.

National Grid defended its actions in a previous statement released Thursday.

“Despite our attempts to work with the customer, they have been unable to reduce their balance owed for the energy they have used,” the statement reads.

Kohan said he’s confident that with the billing dispute settled, he’ll be able to make the monthly utility payments on time. He also said the mall will have a new energy supplier as of Feb. 15, although National Grid will still deliver the power.

And he said he is optimistic the mall — which has nearly 20 vacancies and a Macy’s that will close in the spring — can bounce back. He said he’s encouraged by a $300 million casino planned for Schenectady.

“Let’s put it behind us,” he said of the billing dispute. “Let’s move forward. That thing will never happen again.”

Noyes, who renewed the restaurant’s lease late last year after 10 years in Rotterdam Square, isn’t taking any chances. He said he is working with mall management and National Grid to have the restaurant put on its own meter that would be billed to his company, similar to the mall’s anchor stores.

“So as the landlord works out his financial issues and differences with National Grid, we’ll be unaffected by it,” he said.

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