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Specialty coffee relatively unscathed by San Francisco quake.

Specialty coffee relatively unscathed by San Francisco quake

The Bay Area earthquake of October, 1989 was a tremendous tragedy for all of us. And yet, many of us on the West Coast sense that we were also very lucky--that we were not directly hit, that we came away with our lives. We would like to report to you on the coffee industry in and around the Bay Area, to inform you of how our friends in the industry fared, and let you know that, with few exceptions, business has returned to normal.

We first spoke with Teri Hope, owner of Los Gatos, Palo Alto and Pacific Coffee Roasting Companies. At her Los Gatos store, located in an area that was particular hard hit. Hope described that they "were shaken violently, suffered gas and water line breaks," and were unable to enter the shop for four days until declared structurally sound. But now two months later, she reports Los Gatos is as busy as ever, if not busier. She attributes this in part to the need to return to one's daily routine and rituals. Los Gatos is also a meeting place in town--as such it became a place to share experiences and exchange information about the earthquake, as well as to have the cup of coffee that is an important part of the daily ritual for so many.

Ms. Niki Zivinski of the Coffee Vault in Santa Cruz, another area that was severely hit, reported that they were extremely fortunate, suffering very little damage. And while business slowed initially, it has already returned to levels prior to October 17. She noted that the initial slowdown throughout area occurred not only as a result of the severity of the damage, but because quite a few people decided to leave the city. Others have moved in, however, and life has more or less returned to normal. In San Francisco, we spoke with Jim Reynolds of Peets Coffee & Tea, who informed us that they were also very fortunate and suffered no structural damage. One of their stores in the hard-hit Marina District, however, did close for a week due to breakage and the devastation of the surrounding neighborhood. In fact, at the time of our interview, quite a few people whose homes did withstand the quake in the Marina District had not yet had their gas and electricity restored. Reynolds also reminded us of the psychological trauma that still haunts many, and like Teri Hope, feels the community was genuinely relieved and comforted when their local coffee and tea shops reopened. In addition, Reynolds noted that at least one positive thing may come of the October quake in which they were so lucky--that the coffee and tea industry in the Bay Area, and hopefully along the entire West Coast, will take the necessary precautions to improve their earthquake preparation.

Sara Moore, spokesperson for Hills Brothers Coffee, relayed to us that the Hills Bros. headquarters in San Francisco closed for three days after the quake due to a power outage, though their plants in San Francisco and the East Bay were up and running almost immediately. In fact, we were told that they are now roasting coffee around the clock with three shifts. Hills Bros. also sponsored an internal matching fund drive for victims of the disaster, and donated 500 cases of coffee, tea and cocoa to the Salvation Army, Firefighters and the Red Cross.

We also spoke with green coffee broker M.P. Mountanos and Mountanos Brothers Roasters located in South San Francisco, who escaped with nothing more serious than fallen bags of coffee.

Terry Sloat of Bean Bag Warehouse in Oakland was pleased to be able to report that their facilities sustained no structural damage. And once assured that colleagues and staff had made it through safely, the impact of the disruption of transportation throughout the Bay Area became Bean Bag's main concern. In his own words, "transportation was an absolute nightmare." Following the quake, a pick-up that normally might have taken two hours at most was taking upwards of five or six hours, though traffic flow has by now returned to approximately 75 percent of preearthquake levels with the reopening of the Bay Bridge. Sloat described how he and his truckers sat down together and decided to keep prices at their pre-quake levels, rather than "adding insult to injury," so to speak, by raising their prices as some have been forced to do to compensate for the tripling of their time on the road. Finally, Terry Sloat also reports that although this past summer represented one of the slowest seasons in recent memory, business has since increased dramatically, and is now running at equally unprecedented high levels due to the low position of the current coffee market.

Barrie Berkowitz, president of Uncommon Grounds in Berkeley, conveyed to us that they were also very fortunate in that neither their accounts nor their own locations sustained any structural damage. He also pointed out that deliveries throughout the area, of course, were delayed due to disruption of normal traffic routes.

Most of the people in the trade throughout the Bay Area also expressed their gratitude to those who generously offered their assistance and extended themselves to both their colleagues and competitors.

The worst hit by the earthquake were the Santa Cruz Roasting Company and Peerless Coffee, both of whom suffered a tragic loss of life. The Santa Cruz Roasting Company lost its manager, Robin Ortiz, and bookkeeper, Shawn McCormick, when part of their downtown Santa Cruz mall location collapsed. Peerless Coffee in Oakland lost Kirk Johnston, a salesman, who was killed in the collapse of the Interstate 880 Nimitz Freeway. Johnston had been with Peerless for only five weeks, and had previously worked with MJB and Superior Coffee. All of us with Tea & Coffee Trade Journal extend our deepest sympathies to their colleagues and families.

Ports of Oakland & San Francisco

The port facilities in the Bay Area are of critical importance to the coffee trade on the West Coast. Yet much of the area on which these facilities are built is made up of landfill, which has been known to subside in major earthquakes. We spoke with representatives at both the ports of Oakland and San Francisco to assess the impact of the quake there.

Port of Oakland

Mel Wax, public affairs director for the Port of Oakland, estimated damage to their facilities at $105 million. Of their 10 terminals, nine remain operational. "Only one terminal, the 7th Street public container terminal was knocked out," he stated, "although we were able to accommodate all shipments at other terminals." That terminal had been built on landfill which was subsided.

The Port of Oakland also maintains two airports, Oakland International Airport and Northfield. "We lost 3,000 feet of runway from a total of 10,000, which left 7,000 feet, enough for only smaller planes." Here too, the runway was laid on landfill which suffered severe cracking. Since the quake, however, 1,500 ft. of runway have been restored and the airports are once again able to handle large aircraft.

What long-term effects might the disaster have on future activities at the Port of Oakland? Projected expansion of port facilities will in all probability not take place, says Wax, and price concessions may be in order for certain customers who were affected.

Port of San Francisco

The Port of San Francisco fared somewhat better than its Oakland counterpart, and Wendy Iwata, spokesperson for the Port of San Francisco, assures us that they have made the necessary repairs and are already operating at full capacity.

$60 Million Damage

Nevertheless, damage to the San Francisco facility has been estimated at approximately $60 million. Pier 45 near Fisherman's Wharf sustained the most damage, and several tenants were relocated to other facilities. Several of the large unloading cranes also jumped their tracks, and one crane was left with a damaged leg support as a result of the severe blow dealt by the quake.

Because a portion of the 7 1/2 miles of waterfront property occupied by the Port of San Francisco lay on top of landfill, it also experienced considerable cracking with some subsidence.

Those who monitor the coffee and tea trade at the San Francisco facility, however, were relieved to be able to report that the trade sustained no damage to cargo at port.

Will the quake affect the port's future plans? Iwata confirmed that they will certainly have to rethink their priorities, though she maintains that they remain committed to the double high-cube tunnel project.

Tim Castle West Coast Correspondent
COPYRIGHT 1989 Lockwood Trade Journal Co., Inc.
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1989 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Title Annotation:coffee industry
Author:Castle, Tim
Publication:Tea & Coffee Trade Journal
Date:Dec 1, 1989
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