A month after a 48-inch water main ruptured at the new Bakers Centre shopping plaza in East Falls, work continues deep inside the gaping crater in the parking lot.
Two neighboring businesses that suffered extensive damage are facing ongoing problems as a result of the break, as well.
The Philadelphia Water Department (PWD) still awaits a report from an independent lab that is investigating why the large, cast-iron transmission pipe burst on the early morning of Jan. 11, releasing 13 million gallons of water and opening an 80-foot by 60-foot hole in the parking lot near Fox St. and Roberts Ave.
Freezing temperatures are often to blame for breaks in smaller mains, but the cause of the rupture in the deeper, thicker transmission main would more likely be related to the fact that it was installed in 1895 and had a 120-year life expectancy.
A notice distributed by PWD to business owners in Bakers Centre last week informed them that excavation on the broken main was complete, and parts will arrive within weeks to complete installation of the new section of water main.
“A timeframe for completion is still not available,” the PWD said in the letter.
The impact on tenants
Businesses, meanwhile, are reporting drops of 50 to 70 percent in customers.
Cha Bong Kwon, the owner of the Dollar Plus store near the PWD repair site, said her store was inundated with six inches of water and mud on the day of the break.
While other adjacent stores, including the ShopRite and Ross department store, opened the day after the incident, the Dollar Plus remained closed for five days.
Kwon said the flooding caused $100,000 in damage to the store’s electrical systems, including the wiring for the security cameras and $37,000 in water-damaged food and other products.
The full impact on her store has yet to be seen. She has been told that the floor tiles throughout the store will likely come up as a result of the flooding.
But her immediate concern is the perception shoppers have when they enter the plaza.
They see the cones and yellow tape around the repair site and the heavy equipment working in the crater, and think the neighboring stores are closed.
“Only one third of our customers have come back,” Kwon said. “The most damage we have is the loss of customers.”
The store had only been open since December, and business was starting to build when the main break occurred.
“Now it feels like we will have to do another grand opening” to let shoppers know the store is there, Kwon said.
Andy Kim, the manager of the neighboring Hair Buzz, said he faces the same issues as Kwon.
The flooding from the main break ruined expensive wigs and rows of hair products. He has also been told the floor of the store will eventually show water damage, and many of his showcases and other furnishings will have to be replaced.
He doesn’t have a dollar estimate for the damages the store suffered, but he says business is down at least 50 percent.
“The parking spots are still blocked, and just by looking at the area, people think we are closed,” he said. “It took months of advertising to bring people here. It will take months of advertising to get them back.”
Trying to help
PWD responded to the business owners’ concerns and placed an advertisement in The Fallser, the local newspaper, the week of Feb. 1 to notify neighbors that the stores in Bakers Centre were all open again.
The city’s Risk Management division is accepting damage claims from the Bakers Centre business owners.
State law caps the city’s payouts per incident at $500,000. The shopping center’s developer, Michael Grasso of Metro Development Co., has estimated damage to the parking lot alone at $3 million.
State Sen. Larry Farnese introduced a bill last summer to raise the cap, which was established 34 years ago, to $2 million.
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