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Sawgrass Mills power outage costs shops, restaurants ‘thousands’

Music played, televisions blared, customers dined and a child’s birthday party had just begun at GameRoom and Johnny Rockets when Sawgrass Mills security, and then police, ordered an evacuation before 4 p.m. on Thursday, leading to thousands of dollars of lost business.

FPL equipment had failed, leading to a massive power outage and the evacuation of an estimated 10,000 to 15,000 shop workers and customers at the Sunrise mall. Sprawling Sawgrass Mills, billed as “the largest outlet and value retail shopping destination in the United States,” has more than 350 stores, plus dozens of restaurants and other entertainment spots.

Despite the outage, the GameRoom and other nearby businesses, including Regal Sawgrass 23 and Cheesecake Factory, had full power at the time of the evacuation. Lights were on, and the air conditioning was running, said an upset Andy Marques, general manager at GameRoom.

“Our business was really booming and of all the sudden, we had to turn the machines down, turn the music down, and make the announcement that we had to evacuate,” Marques said. “We had to throw out food that was cooking and we had a birthday party that came in 15 minutes before we had to close.”

Marques said he was ordered to close because the business’s fire alarm is monitored on a panel inside the mall, which had lost power.

But Thomas DiBernardo, fire chief and emergency manager for the city of Sunrise, said a decision was made to close all the businesses for safety, leading to the evacuation of 10,000 to 15,000 people, including about 2,000 retail employees.

“It was a collective decision for general public safety, because of the power outage of the large area,” he said. “And it was getting to be nighttime.”

FPL was doing work on underground cables at the time of the outage, said FPL spokeswoman Marie Bertot.

Marques said GameRoom and Johnny Rockets, which are under the same ownership, had to ask an estimated 150 people to leave. He figures the business lost at least $6,000 on Thursday, a day in which Broward schools closed early and parents brought their kids in droves. And with a Heat playoff game scheduled for the evening, the restaurant’s sports bar had expected a busy night before its planned midnight closing.

Bertot said the outage was not weather related. A cable that makes a connection from the electrical line to a transformer failed. FPL sent the equipment out for testing to determine what went wrong.

While it caused an inconvenience to many, it’s unclear how much the outage cost the mall’s stores, restaurants and other businesses.

Sawgrass Mills declined to comment on the outage’s impact, and several businesses and restaurants referred calls to their national headquarters, which did not return calls on Friday.

Retail consultant Cynthia Cohen, president of Miami-based Strategic Mindshare, said she could not calculate the lost revenue, since the time of day, day of week and time of year all would have to be taken into consideration.

Since the outage occurred late in the afternoon, she said many businesses already had a solid start to their day.

Cohen said many customers shop in the late morning, and the mall may see traffic peak in the early afternoon. Fast food services establishments may also get their biggest crowds at lunchtime rather than dinnertime.

“It’s very specific places that were hurt more, that have a bigger dinner business and have a sports bar opportunity,” she said. “So they were hurt more than Burger King or Starbucks.”

Sawgrass customers were able to return to the mall Friday, when doors reopened at 10 a.m.

“It’s not great, but it’s not the worst part of the day,” Cohen said. “And it wasn’t a Saturday.”

Miami Herald writer Benjamin Brasch contributed to this report.