Downtown businesses counting losses in wake of gas leak

1 / 4
Downtown businesses counting losses in wake of gas leak

Restaurants and cafés in downtown Ottawa were struggling to do business without the use of stoves and ovens Wednesday, 24 hours after a construction mishap connected to the city's light rail transit project severed a gas main at Queen and O'Connor streets. 

One of Rideau Transit Group's contractors ruptured the gas line Tuesday during work on Queen Street. Thousands of workers were forced from downtown office buildings as the hissing of escaping gas could be heard for blocks.

Enbridge shut off gas to 34 properties, restoring service to just six overnight. Technicians went  door-to-door to relight some appliances Wednesday, but other cases were complicated because HVAC contractors had to be brought in to help, the gas company said.

Marcello's Market & Deli in the Sun Life Financial Centre is one of many stores taking a financial hit. Owner Andre Kachi had to apologize to customers who showed up Wednesday expecting a hot lunch.

"My buffet is empty," said Kachi. "I couldn't bake. I can't cook. It's terrible. It's a disaster. We can't operate, so we might as well go home and shut the doors. It's just total loss."

'They don't care about us'

The gas leak is just the latest incident related to work on the city's light rail project that Kachi said is hurting his bottom line. 

Kachi estimates he's lost more than $200,000 over the past year because of the construction mess outside his business, located above the future Parliament LRT station. 

"They don't care about us, honestly," he said. "I'm working for free. I don't pay myself, I don't pay my wife. We work as a family for free, just to keep up. How long I can last? I don't know."

Businesses asking for compensation

Kachi is one of several business owners asking the City of Ottawa to reimburse them for revenue they lost because of Tuesday's gas leak. 

Stelios Doussis, general manager of Riviera, said the Sparks Street restaurant was forced to close its doors at 3 p.m. Tuesday after emergency crews temporarily blocked access to the business. 

Doussis said staff had to call customers to cancel their reservations, and with no gas when it reopened Wednesday,  the restaurant could only offer a light lunch.

"We're a pretty busy restaurant. It affected a pretty good chunk [of business] yesterday," said Doussis. 

Doussis is planning to meet with the Sparks Street business improvement association Thursday to explore the possibility of compensation from the city.

'It's very difficult'

Karina Hayston, owner of Moulin de Provence, is hoping to do the same. On Wednesday the café's display cases were looking empty, and staff had only a single electric oven to warm up food.

"It's very difficult," said Hayston. "You're trying your best to run a business, create jobs, and please your customers, and issues like this are definitely hard."

The chair of the Sparks Street business association, Antoine Kano, said as bad as things were Tuesday, he doesn't anticipate the financial fallout will be as severe as it was during last summer's sinkhole on nearby Rideau Street.

More than 30 downtown businesses filed claims for compensation from the city after the road collapsed on June 8, 2016. 

Kano said he plans to talk to members this week to figure out how much money they lost due to the gas leak.

The city of Ottawa's solicitors offices says that owners can submit a claim for compensation, which the city would probably direct toward the contractor.