Residents and visitors snubbed their collective noses at the freezing rain and snow falling in Gainesville on Wednesday morning and hit the roads to find a few businesses open to serve their winter storm needs.
While roads remained relatively clear of traffic throughout the day, hearty motorists slowly slushed and skidded their way out of neighborhoods and down main thoroughfares, willing to fight the wintry conditions to stock up on essentials — and a few toys.
Amin Virani, proprietor of an Exxon gas station on Browns Bridge Road, said he had seen a steady stream of customers stop by for snacks and drinks. Many of the customers were on their way to work, he added, evidence that some businesses never shut down, whatever the weather has in store.
Nick Daughtery pulled in to the station just after 10 a.m. He said he was in town from Texas, part of a team of line crew specialists brought in by local electric companies to service downed power lines.
“It’s getting bad out here,” he said, as the snow turned to freezing rain by midmorning. Then he put his big truck into gear, flipped on the windshield wipers and made his way down the road.
Just down the street, at J&J Foods on Jesse Jewell Parkway, Zach Nix was shopping for snacks and supplies for his emergency medical team at Georgia MedPort Ambulance Service in Gainesville. The private emergency response service, on call 24 hours a day, provides basic and advanced life support through its 14 ambulances, plus a specialized bariatric unit.
“We’re an additional resource,” Nix said, adding his team would work closely with local governments throughout the storm to provide medical care and service to residents in need.
The service also takes calls directly from residents, and partner with local-area senior homes and nursing centers to ensure the safety and health of elderly residents.
Nix said his team had prepared for the storm by equipping its ambulances with snow chains and stocking up on medical supplies.
Nurses at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center reported sleeping overnight Tuesday at the hospital on cots and stretchers. Michelle Sullivan, who works in the ER, said they would do the same Wednesday to ensure patients are cared for and medical services remain at the ready.
Meanwhile, workers at big-box retailers across the city spent Wednesday morning clearing parking lots of snow and keeping the shelves stocked with winter weather essentials.
At The Home Depot on Dawsonville Highway, Manager Reece Gilmer was working with his team of associates to meet customers’ needs before likely closing early.
Gilmer picked up additional generators in Dawsonville on Wednesday morning after the Gainesville store sold out earlier in the week. And after selling out of snow sleds, Gilmer had his team build some on-site.
“These are the days that are fun,” he said.
That news went over well with Vita Springer, who showed up at the store with her kids in tow looking to buy a sled so they could all enjoy playing in the snow.
At the 24-hour Wal-Mart on Shallowford Road, the storm’s impact was beginning to show by early afternoon. Manager Anthony Howard said he would keep the store open as long as possible, but indicated he might not have the staff to keep the lights on all night.
Customer Juan Carlos Valdez, his wife and two kids stocked up on bread, ham, cheese, water and household items before heading back out into the gusty winds and driving rain.
“It was bad getting out of the neighborhood this morning,” he said, adding he wanted to get groceries for his family before it got too late and road conditions worsened.
Customers also made runs on goods at Publix on Thompson Bridge Road. Manager Duane Elkhill said there had been a steady trickle of customers throughout the morning, and he had placed special orders earlier in the week to meet growing demand as the weather forecasts became dire. But getting those orders in on time was made tricky by the barrage of snow and ice.
“Commerce is very difficult in times like these,” Elkhill said, adding he would play it by ear on whether to close early and send employees home.
Hotels across the city were booked full, as many people took up the last remaining rooms after getting caught in the storm Tuesday evening.
Kent Scarbrough, general manager of the Holiday Inn Gainesville-Lanier Centre on E.E. Butler Parkway, said many people staying there were “not willing to risk it” on the roads, missing flights out of Atlanta and spending a few extra days in the city.
The hotel’s bar was busy Tuesday night, he said, and he expected the same to be true Wednesday as people stayed in and avoided the winter weather.
Johnny Copeland and Kenneth Rauch were chatting in the hotel’s lounge early Wednesday afternoon. Both men had come from out-of-state for work, but had the day off as the winter weather settled in and made travel difficult. They said they would likely spend the day hanging out at the hotel.
Emails and calls placed to The Times revealed the snow and ice didn’t faze some workers and businesses in Gainesville. For example, employees at Joyce Merck Florists were working around the clock to ensure Valentine’s Day orders are ready to go out Friday.
And though the storm shuttered government, schools and many businesses across the city, some restaurants saw a boon to their bottom line thanks to the snow and ice accumulation.
Pizza Hut on Browns Bridge Road kept churning out pizzas and handled a rush of calls for delivery as the slippery road conditions kept most residents home. Manager Shannon Odum
described the day as “hectic,” but hoped to have enough staff on hand to remain open into the evening.
At the Waffle House nearby, on the corner of Dawsonville Highway and Shallowford Road, business was busy as usual. The restaurant was packed with diners before noon, and a half dozen cooks and waitresses ran around calling out orders and delivering plates of eggs, grits, bacon and toast.
Waffle House is known for never closing. Whether it’s Christmas morning or a once-in-a-decade snowstorm, the diner never locks its doors. Waitresses said that wouldn’t change this time around.
Jeff and Crystal Ogletree were digging into their meal when they said they had gotten stuck in Gainesville overnight Tuesday while traveling from the North Georgia mountains to their home in Lawrenceville. They said they were ready to get home, but needed some good grub before hitting the treacherous roads.
“We could count on Waffle House being open,” Crystal said.