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Back Bay workers, visitors manage without coffee, showers during blackout

Posted by Johanna Kaiser  March 14, 2012 02:29 PM

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Boston’s normally bustling Back Bay was off to a slow start Wednesday as 13,000 residents and businesses woke up without power after Tuesday night’s three alarm transformer fire left a large section of the city in the dark.

Along most of Newbury and Boylston streets, shops were shuttered with only the occasional “Sorry, we’re closed” and “Closed due to power outage” signs hanging in windows.

Without traffic lights, cars waiting at busy intersections were slow to proceed as they were directed by Boston Police officers stationed at nearly every intersection along Massachusetts Avenue, Boylston Street, and down Commonwealth Avenue until Kenmore Square.

But most parking spots were empty as storefronts remained dark. The only activity was from some shop employees who took advantage of the quiet time to count inventory or add a fresh coat of paint to patio furniture.

“Hey, where’d you get that coffee?” a man looking for cell phone service asked another holding a coveted Dunkin’ Donuts cup--one someone brought him from the other side of the city.

Despite the lack of caffeine in the area, most visitors to the city seemed in good spirits as they wandered the area to see what, if anything, was open.

Still, they wanted some morning necessities.

“I want the power to come back so I can take a hot shower,” said Mark Fischer, of Alabama, as he stood outside the Sheraton Hotel, looking at the burnt out building across Dalton Street where NStar and electrical trucks were parked.

Fischer and others were waiting out the power loss outside, asking anyone who might have information when the power might be back, while others packed into waiting cars and taxis taking them to hotels with power.

Many with little else to do watched and photographed crews working from the sidewalk, while others set out to find something to do.

“There’s no point sitting around in the dark,” said Suzy Christopher, sitting in a packed Finagle A Bagel on the corner of Bolyston and Clarendon. It was one of the first sources of electricity and coffee that residents found as power was restored to the downtown area.

The electrical outlet throughout the shop were filled with cell phone and laptop chargers, as customers waited to take their turn to power up, but Christopher, who is visiting from London, had only complaint as she got ready to visit Harvard Square.

“We had to take a cold shower this morning,” she said.

While shops were empty, office workers found few places to get work done.

“We have coffee, wi-fi, a printer, a fridge that can actually keep things cold,” said Nima Yadollahpour, a managing partner of Oficio, a shared office space, where office workers typed on laptops and filled their coffee cups.

Power was restored to Oficio’s building at 30 Newbury St. and the company offered free day passes to Back Bay residents and office workers who needed a place to plug in.

“We’re one of the lucky blocks on Newbury Street,” Yadollahpour said.

Earlier in the morning, local businesses and public facilities reported their status via Twitter:

"Due to power outages from the Back Bay Hilton fire, both Youth & Family concerts scheduled today have been postponed. Stay tuned for info,'' the Boston Symphony reported.

"The Central Library in Copley Sq is closed today due to power outage. Branch buildings are open, but w/o phone & web access',' the Boston Public Library tweeted.

"Due to a power outage caused by a nearby fire, all #Berklee activities, including classes, will be closed today (3/14/12),'' Berklee School of Music reported.

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