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In Buffalo an Outpouring of Hospitality as
 Hotel Workers Met Challenge from Storm
By Michelle Kearns, The Buffalo News, N.Y.McClatchy-Tribune Business News

Oct. 25. 2006 - General manager Chris Steinfals spent last week busing tables, driving to the airport, showing people to their rooms -- and refusing the occasional tip -- as he hustled to make life more comfortable for his hotel's share of the 2,500 visiting utility workers who traveled from about 20 states to restore electric service.

He was among the many local business people who found themselves working long hours and odd jobs last week to handle the crush that followed the freak October 19th snow storm.

"I did everything. . . . I'm not the youngest guy," said Steinfals, 73, of the Adam's Mark Hotel in downtown Buffalo. "It was quite a challenge."

At one point only 40 of the hotel's 400 employees made it for work. Steinfals spent about a week getting up at 6 a.m. and working till 8:30 p.m. to serve an estimated 400 storm worker guests who filled half the hotel's 485 rooms.

As the last of the visiting power and tree workers officially left the area Tuesday, hoteliers and business people marveled at how they managed for a week of power outages and staff shortages. They found space for dawn breakfast banquets, stayed late washing clothes and made extra room -- as Buffalo's Hyatt Regency did putting 40 cots in the ballroom one night.

By National Grid estimates, 2,600 hotel rooms were used in 100 hotels for many of the 3,700 local and out-of-town workers who ate 12,000 meals each day during some of the six days of storm work.

"It was like a war activity almost," said National Grid project manager Jamie Veitch. He came from Albany to work at the worker coordination area in the Eastern Hills Mall parking lot, where hundreds of trucks parked.

Six months ago, the Clarence mall became a storm player by agreeing to serve as a free emergency staging area. Finding such a vast parking lot to use for emergency coordinating was part of National Grid's new approach to disaster planning, developed, said Veitch, after post-hurricane power restoration in the South.

When the workers began arriving at the parking lot, along with trucks from a company that specializes in traveling to feed large groups, mall staff made accommodations. Marketing manager Ellen Kaminsky and a co-worker coordinated with Saturn of Clarence to convert what was to be a new car showroom into a temporary dining hall. That way, she said, workers wouldn't have to eat breakfast in outside tents.

For Veitch, at the parking lot early this week as the mall area was being dismantled and a tent was being taken down, his week's stay was a good one.

He did have to switch hotels, as other workers did, when they got bumped by people with reservations for weekend conventions and the Bills-Patriots game. Yet it was cheering when grateful Western New Yorkers came with signs with hearts that said, "Thank you work crews."

"It was a total outpouring," said Veitch. "It was kind of cool."

To help 75 visiting workers who needed clean laundry at the end of last week, an Adam's Mark secretary phoned around until Gi-Ro Dry Cleaners, of Lockport, said, "yes." The 500 pounds worth of pants and shirts -- adding up to a $3,200 tab -- were 50 pounds more than the cleaner could do at once. "It was quite a bit," said Dave Giansante, president.

For Steinfals, the laundry service was one of many things that worked out well in the days that followed the disaster.

People in the hotel's sales and finance operations made beds when suspended bus service left housekeeping staff without a way in. Even teenage children of staff came in to carry luggage and bus tables.

Steinfals was so proud, he's dubbed them "Snow Angels" in an upcoming hotel newsletter. The experience proves what almost six decades in the business has taught him.

"Everything that happens in the world," he said, "happens in a hotel."

e-mail: mkearns@buffnews.com

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Copyright (c) 2006, The Buffalo News, N.Y.

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