Cold, snow freeze region businesses

2014-01-06T11:51:00Z 2014-01-07T05:26:08Z Cold, snow freeze region businessesKeith Benman, Rob Earnshaw and Joseph Pete The Times

As frigid temperatures hampered travel in Northwest Indiana, many region businesses closed or scaled back operations Monday.

Some region gas stations were open and some were not. A steady stream of customers pulled into the well-plowed driveway at the Speedway at 6845 Calumet Ave. in Hammond. But when they tried to pay at the pump or go in to pre-pay, they could not.

But just down the street at the Speedway at 7405 Calumet Ave., people were crowding to the pumps and getting all they needed.

Gas prices ticked up over the weekend to around $3.29 per gallon of regular at many stations but there did not appear to be any price gouging going on.

Not many other of the small businesses that line Calumet on both sides were open Monday morning. Those that were, including one oil change shop, had no customers as people stayed inside to avoid the 15 degrees below zero temps and stinging wind.

The McDonald's at the northeast corner of 165th and Columbia Avenue didn't seem to miss a beat Monday morning, although the customer count about 10 a. m. was light by the busy eatery's usual standards.

Horseshoe Casino was the only one in Northwest Indiana closed due to the severe weather Monday, although Michigan competitors Four Winds Dowagiac and Four Winds Hartford also shut down due to the frigid temperatures, snow and wind.

Horseshoe planned to open at 10 a.m. Tuesday barring any further snow emergencies. The two Michigan casinos are remaining closed until Wednesday morning.

At Horseshoe Casino, management wanted to see Interstate 65 and Interstate 80/94 opened so employees and patrons can get to the casino safely, said General Manager Dan Nita. Both interstates opened Monday afternoon, but I-65 was closed again Monday evening.

Southlake Mall in Hobart also closed Monday, and planned to reopen at 10 a.m. Tuesday for normal business hours.

The bitter cold affected some -- but not all -- of the region’s major industrial employers. The massive BP Whiting Refinery, which employs 1,900 workers on the southern shore of Lake Michigan, operated normally, company spokesman Scott Dean said.

Ford’s Chicago Assembly Plant in Hegewisch was shut down Monday, just a week after its 4,200 workers returned from their holiday break, spokeswoman Kristin Maynard said.

The sister Chicago Stamping Plant in Chicago Heights, which feeds the auto factory metal frames, scaled back to a reduced schedule.

Ford employees were instructed to call plant security for updates.

All of the major steel mills - including Gary Works, ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor and ArcelorMittal Burns Harbor - kept cranking out steel, even if workers couldn’t navigate their way through the treacherous roads Monday morning.

Employees who were already working when the storm hit stayed at the mills and racked up overtime, said Jim Robinson director of United Steel Workers District 7.

“A steel mill is a 24/7/365 operation,” he said. “It’s a continuous process that you can’t just stop. They’re there working whether it’s cold or hot or freezing.”

But the “polar vortex” gripping the nation and the Region wouldn't keep Crown Point residents from walking down to Crown Brewing and enjoying a craft beer – albeit a bit later than usual.

Crown Brewing general manager and co-owner Chris Stanek said the downtown establishment was tentatively scheduled to open at 4 p.m. Monday, depending on how roads are and if staff that don’t live in the city can make it.

A lot of their customers are within walking distance to the brewery, he said.

“A lot of the storms in the past where it snowed people walked down after they shoveled their driveways,” Stanek said. “That’s kind of who we want to stay open for.”

Gus Bock Ace Hardware in Munster delayed opening until 9 a.m. Monday. Store manager Adam White said all but one employee made it in. In the first hour the store had about six customers buying gloves and snow blower accessories.

“We ran out of everything most useful, but we still have some basics,” White said.

White said the business received an extra shipment of portable heaters and a lot of those were in stock as of Monday morning.

Grocery stores remained open, including every Strack and Van Til location.

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