Subzero Temperatures Take Its Toll On DeWitt Businesses

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By Jonathon Chun
Clinton County Chatter

While schools and universities might close due to the coldest weekend of the year, city operations and many businesses have no choice but to stay open.

In DeWitt, Mich., temperatures dropped as low as 11-below degrees Fahrenheit. Most would seek shelter and warmth in those conditions, but a few brave the cold to serve the residents of DeWitt.


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Everyone from city workers to small business owners to restaurants have no choice but to carry on with operations as normal. It is not always easy or ideal, but its the price to pay when working in a small, winter town.

City Administrator Daniel Coss said he knows the difficulties that winter weather can bring. Even when there is little to no snow, as it was for most of the Feb. 14-15 weekend, the bitter weather still brings many complications.

“When it’s cold like this, the maintenance on the equipment goes way up, things just break more often when it’s cold,” Coss said. “So we have guys spending more time fixing stuff to get down the road and plow the streets, we have to haul more snow, so overall, it affects and impacts the majority of our operations.”

One of the more overlooked effects that freezing temperatures have is on city cemeteries.

“We have a city-owned cemetery so if we have a funeral and we have to dig graves, the ground is frozen,” Coss said. “Right now, there is about 18 inches of frost, so we have to thaw it out with a grave heater.”


A grave heater in use at a local DeWitt cemetery. Photo credit: Rich Miller, DPS Supervisor.

A grave heater is a mechanism used to allow cemeteries to conduct burials in the winter months. While some cemeteries will store bodies till the spring, this half-barrel shaped tool allows propane heaters to thaw the ground out over an 18-hour time frame in order to dig deep enough for a burial.

It has to run for about a day to thaw the ground out. So now it takes us two days of preparation for a funeral.”

Outside of city operations, many local businesses that stay open run into problems, be it customer-related or problems within the establishment.

For Beth Herendeen, owner of Twiggies, this weekend marked one of her biggest for business. Specializing in flower deliveries, Herendeen spent all weekend accommodating couples for Valentine’s Day. Outside of a clear drop in walk-in customers, Herendeen ran into many delivery issues.

“Not that fun to deliver flowers in weather like that, I had a lot of complaining going on,” Herendeen said. “When you have to deliver in this kind of weather, you have to wrap everything because if the pedals touch a surface that cold, they turn brown dead. Wow, there’s $75 that you eat.

So, you have to triple wrap everything in tissue, so three sheets of tissue just to get it out the door into the delivery vehicle, then brave the roads and the shitty snow and then, oh yea, what if somebody’s not home and you’re standing there on their front porch?”

Just down the street from Herendeen’s shop, John Coscarelli said he found the weekend to be rather successful given his recent luck with winter storms. After a storm last year wiped out two of his furnaces on the same day, the owner of Relli’s restaurant only had to deal with canceled reservations and employees calling in.

“We have a little over 200 reservations over the weekend, and I think 40 of them canceled,” Coscarelli said. “A couple early day shift people didn’t come in, they couldn’t get their cars started.”

It wasn’t all bad for DeWitt businesses, however. Steve Thorsen, owner of Thorsen Racing Engines, gets all of his parts delivered from out-of-state. Besides a late UPS delivery here and there, Thorsen and his workers enjoyed the bitter cold from the heated confines of their auto shop, doing what they love.

And it never hurts the winter weather offers an opportunity to have some fun after work.

“It’s not too bad,” Thorsen said. “We take the big snowmobiles out and go playing after work.”

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