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Explosion and fire in Downtown Madison

A sign on the door of Michelangelo's Coffee House, 114 State St., lets patrons know it was closed Friday because it didn't have electricity.

Downtown establishments said Friday’s excessive heat and an untimely power outage put a damper on business during Maxwell Street Days, typically one of the most popular Downtown shopping events of the year.

Most restaurants and shops on the lower half of State Street, closer to the UW-Madison campus, were spared the inconvenience of an outage. But businesses nearer the Capitol weren’t so lucky. Cafes, restaurants and shops — such as Cooper’s Tavern, Barriques and The Old Fashioned — were closed late into the afternoon or until Saturday morning due to the power outage that followed an explosion and fires at two power substations.

A select few upper State Street establishments, such as Nick’s Restaurant, were unaffected by the outage but still suffered a downturn in business.

“This is the slowest Friday afternoon I’ve seen,” said Dino Christ, owner of Nick’s Restaurant. Most businesses east of Nick’s were without power Friday morning, according to Tiffany Kenney, executive director of the Central Business Improvement District.

John Hutchinson, co-owner of Fontana Sports, 216 N. Henry St., said business was bustling Friday morning, but the clogged traffic resulting from non-functioning stop lights in combination with soaring temperatures put a damper on business in the afternoon.

Still, the highest temperatures of the summer so far — 93 degrees with a heat index that made it feel like 108 — didn’t stop some avid shoppers from taking advantage of bargains.

“The deals are definitely worth it,” said incoming UW-Madison freshman Jessica Keller. “Hot deals, hot weather.”

The temperatures were no match for Carrie Profitt, who attended Maxwell Street Days because the annual event was a favorite of her mother, who died last year.

“This is something she did every year,” Profitt said. “No heat was keeping us away.”

Profitt said some businesses she visited could only take cash during the power outage, which worked to her advantage.

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“They’re just super nice and just take whatever cash you got (at) a couple places so we got some super deals on stuff.”

While some Downtown establishments that remained open during the outage only took cash, other stores, such as footwear shop Shoo, processed credit cards via mobile adapters.

Anne Connor, owner of Driftless Studio, 214 State St., which had no power until Friday afternoon, said she filled in carbon credit card slips by hand to process orders until the power was restored. She said doing so created a risk because she couldn’t immediately verify payment.

Connor said sales and customer flow on Friday were significantly down.

Despite using a generator, Kilwins confectionery owner Curtis Diller said he had to throw out melted ice cream during the outage and lost thousands of dollars due to those costs and reduced business.

Kristine Hillmer, president and CEO of the Wisconsin Restaurant Association, said restaurants should be cautious in using food stored during the power outage.

“If there’s any question, it’s better to be safe than sorry and not serve it,” she said.

The city advises it’s best to throw out perishable food that’s been above 41 degrees for more than two hours.

The power outage prompted Capitol Police to shut down the Capitol building to all non-critical employees. Gov. Tony Evers declared a state of emergency for the Downtown area and ordered state offices and buildings affected by the power outage to close.

The closure of state office buildings had implications statewide. Brown County, for example, was unable to issue marriage certificates because they could not access the state vital records system.

State Journal reporter Ed Treleven contributed to this report.

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