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Coffee Shops Flooded - With Customers - in Isabel's Wake

By Alyson Klein and Bethany Broida
Capital News Service
Friday, Sept. 19, 2003

WASHINGTON - Streets weren't the only places that were flooded Friday morning.

With power outages rendering Mr. Coffee machines across the region unusable, coffee shops filled past capacity Friday morning with caffeine junkies seeking a fix and a chance to reconnect with the community.

"We couldn't brew the stuff fast enough. Even when we did there were long lines for the milk," said George Thomas, counter staff at the Bagel Bin in Columbia. He said he did about 33 percent more business than usual between 7 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Wendy Pollock and her daughter, Anna Hiatt, 15, tried three different places before grabbing a table at a Starbucks in Chevy Chase.

"It's been an odyssey," Pollock said. "People remember to buy toilet paper before a storm, but they forget to stock up on cappuccinos."

Lona Sandon, a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association, said it is easy to understand why lines were snaking out the door Friday.

"Caffeine is part of people's normal morning routine and has been for centuries. We get up and have a cup of coffee," Sandon said. "And we do get addicted to the effects of coffee, it's a stimulant."

Without their daily dose, Sandon said, drinkers can experience "some withdrawal effects," including fatigue, headaches and irritable mood.

Adriana Moreira faced that grumpiness Friday at the Panera Bread in Chevy Chase where she works. "Some people had really bad attitudes, like, 'There's no coffee? We need coffee!" she said.

Mike Reingruber, who went to four coffee places with his young son in tow, admitted he was "really starting to get a bit of a headache" until Quartermaine Coffee Roasters in Chevy Chase Circle opened around noon,

Others looked to escape their dark, silent houses. Thomas said that tables at the Bagel Bin filled up fast.

"Mostly people were looking for a table because they did not want to go home where they did not have power," Thomas said. "They would rather stay and eat here where we have lights."

At the Frederick Coffee Company, "You could tell the ones who had lost power because they had this look of desperation," said Libby Wisnieski, who works as a roaster at the Frederick shop. She said customers were waiting when the shop opened at 7 a.m.

"We had lots of unfamiliar faces, people who live out in the country flocking into the city where there was power and they could find out what was going on," she said.

Some stores were not prepared for the rush. Del Rene Smart, owner of the Pony Espresso in Annapolis, figured the rain would keep customers away and told the employee who normally works Friday mornings to stay home.

"And then I got slammed," Smart said. "I had a friend stop by and she tried to help me out, but she couldn't figure out how to work the register. She just kept brewing up pot after pot for me."

Smart, who changed the name of her "Beach House" brew to "Hurricane Blend" in honor of Isabel, said she went through nine gallons of milk before noon, compared to six gallons on another busy day.

But she said the crowds were not the only unusual feature of the morning rush. Regular customers who usually purchase only a small cup for themselves were buying several 24-ounce cups for their neighbors, Smart said. And more people chose specialty drinks over regular drip coffee.

"It was like they were celebrating, 'Hey, I made it through the storm.' "

Copyright 2003 University of Maryland Philip Merrill College of Journalism

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