By Julianne Homokay – Special to The Alpine Mountaineer
It was a longer journey than Matt Zack, president of Jensen’s Foods, would have preferred, but on Monday, March 27 at 6:00 a.m., Jensen’s Foods in Blue Jay reopened its doors to customers.
After the devastating three-day snowfall earlier in the month that, according to the National Weather Service, totaled between 100 and 110 inches from Crestline up to Lake Arrowhead, Zack and the Blue Jay store manager, Eric Lee, noticed patches of the ceiling bowing in the front and back of the store. They grabbed shovels and went straight up to the roof to begin removing snow.
Zack was also immediately in contact with County Fire and the San Bernardino County building inspectors. On March 2, Jensen’s was subsequently red-tagged, meaning that the building was not safe enough to allow customers into the store. While volunteers from the community showed up at first to help with the snow removal efforts on the roof, after the red tag, Zack was concerned for their safety. He and Lee ended up removing most of the snow themselves.
As soon as they were able, Pacific Capital, Jensen’s landlord, hired engineering firms Structural Focus and Twining, Inc. to assess the damage and begin repairs. “The engineers told us, ‘That’s the best thing you could have done,’ getting the snow off the roof,” said Zack.
As a result, Jensen’s lost some ceiling tiles, and Zack and Lee had to clean up after some flooding, but their efforts preserved the integrity of the roof, avoiding the fate of the roof collapse at Goodwin & Son’s in Crestline. “My heart goes out to Mike Johnstone [vice president of Goodwin & Son’s],” whom Zack considers a friend.
After the engineers erected shoring under the damaged parts of Jensen’s roof, and spent all of last Thursday, March 23, inspecting the roof in 20-foot increments, the store was yellow-tagged on Friday, and Zack received the final approval on Saturday to let customers back in. There are still areas, one in the front of the store and one in the back, that require repairs, but customers will be able to return to their regular shopping experience. The area in the back of the store is in an “employees only” zone, and drywall has been erected around the area in the front still needing attention.
The hardest part for Zack was having to turn customers away who showed up while the building was still red-tagged. “It was sad to see them come to our door,” but he couldn’t let anyone in. “I’d rather exercise caution,” Zack said. But, “You know the need is out there. We’ve never been closed for more than a limited amount of time,” even during some of the major fires in the past.
Jensen’s Foods did their level best to take care of their employees during the shutdown. The HR department encouraged employees to apply for disaster unemployment insurance immediately and aided them through the process. The Running Springs and Cedar Glen stores largely remained open, albeit on limited days and hours. While of course there were challenges in terms of Blue Jay employees getting to these locations, whenever they could do so they were offered hours. Jensen’s even offered hours to employees at their Palm Springs and Palm Desert locations for employees who could make it down the mountain.
All in all, the atmosphere in the store on Monday was celebratory, even giddy. “So glad to have my store back! We’ve shopped here for years and years,” said customer Shelley, who was out getting groceries with her husband, Michael. Another couple was pushing their cart up and down the aisles proclaiming “Welcome back!” to the employees and other customers.
“We are happy to be back open and available to customers,” said Zack. “We feel really blessed.”