Cold delivers a mixed bag to Pittsburgh region's businesses

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Jimmy Cohen was a busy man Tuesday, and could be for quite some time.

With record low temperatures hitting the region, the plumber in Squirrel Hill had received more than 300 calls by Tuesday morning as water pipes and furnaces broke all over town.

"There's not one house in this city that's set up for 30 below zero," he said, taking the wind chill into account. "Most of these houses don't have insulation, but the people who do have insulation don't have insulation in the right places."

In 34 years in business, Mr. Cohen had never seen it this bad. Monday night the phone rang every 15 minutes as the cold front set in. Tuesday business was non-stop. He was just taking the problems one at a time and working his way through the long list of distressed customers calling his one-man company.

Meanwhile, Tudi Mechanical Systems, which has 75 trucks, was booked through today and making more appointments into later this week.

"Our guys have been extremely busy," said Kate California, the McKees Rocks heating and air conditioning company's marketing manager. She said the company has put regular installation and repair jobs on hold to attend to emergency repairs first.

While the cold is unusual, she said Tudi gets just as busy in a heat wave.

But if plumbers were busy, restaurants were not.

Jamie Betten, whose family owns Hot Metal Diner in West Mifflin, was looking at a sparsely populated dining room. Apparently, people did not want to leave their warm homes or businesses to go out to eat.

Even pizza delivery was not a sure thing. When the weather was forecast to dip below zero, Dave Lemak, owner of Lucci's Pizza in Squirrel Hill, expected to be busy with deliveries. Instead, he said, the shop closed early Monday night.

"January is usually slow, but this was even slower," he said.

Heaters were a hot item Tuesday. At Winschel Hardware in Etna, half of the space heaters were sold and two people -- either with pipe problems or trying to ward off frozen pipes -- bought heat tape.

Grocery stores sold batteries and water, emergency supplies to go with the milk and bread that are the staples of winter weather events.

Dan McNabb, owner of the Castle Shannon Shop'n Save, said Sunday was much busier than usual as people prepared for the cold weather heading toward Pennsylvania. On Tuesday, customers called to make sure the store was just open -- it was.

The cold snap brought an unexpected benefit to cab drivers -- once the mechanics jump-started the more recalcitrant cars, said Jerry Campolongo, vice president of Yellow Cab. Because many people stayed home Tuesday, the lack of traffic meant for quicker trips around town.

Ann Belser: or 412-263-1699.

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