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Water line break swamps Modesto's McHenry Village -- twice

At noon Thursday in McHenry Village, restaurant terraces that should have been filled with the lunchtime rush were empty.

Signs on some storefronts read "closed." The drive-through at The Chicken Barn was desolate.

The problem wasn't a shortage of food or a lack of customers.

It was a water line break caused by construction that for the second time in three days shut off the shopping center's water and forced some merchants and restaurants to close.

Construction crews working on the new CVS pharmacy at the site of the former Mallard's Restaurant twice hit water mains while excavating.

The breaks shut down water at about 9:30 a.m. Tuesday and 9 a.m. Thursday. They abruptly left the center's merchants and customers without water to clean, rinse, drink or flush.

"I had two clients in my chairs (Tuesday) getting coloring done and another (Thursday)," said Trisha Brown, owner of Younique Hair. "We had to use bottled water to shampoo the color out. It's very important to rinse it out; it's a chemical, so you have to get it out (in) time."

Stanislaus County health inspectors shut down eight restaurants-food sellers Tuesday and part of the day Thursday. Those affected were Dinner My Way, Kirin Japanese Steak House, Mexicali Grill, Soup City Café, The Chicken Barn, Togo's Eatery, Verona's Cucina Italiana and the Village Baking & Coffee Co. Vieira's Lounge was closed both days, but opened its bar in the evenings.

The bakery portion of the Village Baking & Co. remained open.

Water service was restored after 5 p.m. Tuesday and after 3 p.m. Thursday.

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A sign outside Mexicali Grill offered customers an explanation and apology, as well as a discount to an alternate, unaffected eatery.

"In today's times we need every day; every day counts," said Mexicali Grill owner Ismael Perez. "We haven't had time to get over the first one and it's already happened again. I understand things happen, but we need to be open. That is the bottom line. We can't be closed."

Perez said he averages 70 to 100 customers per day. He sent home five employees each day, meaning a loss of wages for them as well.

The story was the same at Verona's, where owner Jaime Alderete estimates he has lost $6,000 to $7,000 from the two-day closure. Reservations had to be canceled and more than a dozen employees were sent home.

The restaurant was able to open for dinner Thursday — one of the few in the center able to do so — when the water was restored.

"The Village on Tuesday and (Thursday) was kind of a ghost town," Aldrete said. "The restaurants bring traffic, people shop. You know, one time, that is an accident. But now we don't know if it'll happen again."

Representatives for Standard Management, which runs McHenry Village, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Officials with Simac Construction Inc. of Escondido, general contractor for the CVS pharmacy project, also could not be reached for comment.

A construction worker on site, who would not identify himself, insisted the problem was caused by improper city marking of the active water lines.

Calls to Modesto's Land, Development and Engineering Division were not returned Thursday.

At the construction site Thursday, an excavator worked in a flooded, muddy pool as workers surveyed the damage.

Dinner My Way owner Jennifer Warren estimates the closures cost her business $5,000 to $6,000. She had to cancel more than 20 reservations and didn't open either day.

Warren said that although McHenry Village management has been helpful, she was disappointed she didn't hear from the construction company.

"We didn't get someone from the construction company coming over and saying they were sorry," she said. "There's been no explanation, business owner to business owner. That's a disappointment."

Restaurant owners said Standard Management has pledged to work with them to recoup their losses from CVS and the construction companies.

Eateries weren't the only ones affected by the lack of water. Sunset Beach tanning salon owner Betty Humphrey could not use her Mystic tan machine either day and had to turn away customers.

Even those not directly affected by the lack of water, such as the home furnishing and design business Portico, felt its impact. Owner Sarah Grover said she missed the after-lunch crowd that normally dropped by her store, a 25 percent to 30 percent loss of business.

"There is a trickle-down effect," she said. "Everyone can be patient for a couple of days, but if it continues on, it will be a problem."

With water restored Thursday afternoon, owners said they will have to combat the misinformation that spreads when any business is closed unexpectedly.

"The rumors start real quick," said Perez, the Mexicali Grill owner. "You're closed, you're going out of business. You hear everything. But thank God, we're open (today).

"That's if they don't hit anything again."

Bee staff writer Marijke Rowland can be reached at mrowland@modbee.com or 578-2284.

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