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Microcosm of a crisis: Longtime successful coffee shop struggles to stay afloat

by Bill Kirk, Eagle Tribune

For four months beginning Sept. 14, 2018, John Farrington went to work, sat on the first stool of the small dining counter at Carleen's Coffee Shoppe, and waited.

And waited.

And then waited some more.

Finally, someone from Columbia Gas arrived, fixed the appliances that churn out the products that make his business go — food and drink — and he was able to get up from the stool and go back to work.

"You never knew when they were going to show up," he said during a recent interview in the restaurant he's owned for 35 years at 209 South Broadway. "I was here every day from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., waiting for someone to show up."

It wasn't just Farrington who was affected. The Sept. 13 gas explosions that hit Lawrence, Andover and North Andover created a ripple effect for every business and homeowner whose property was within the blast zone.

In Farrington's case, the disaster not only affected him and his family — he had to get a "Christmas loan" to pay the mortgage — but also the families of his waitstaff, dishwashers and cooks.

For some time, Columbia Gas paid them. But then their wages were cut off just before Christmas when the company told them that not only would they no longer be paid, but that they had been overpaid. Columbia Gas wanted money back.

The distributor who delivered $12,000 worth of food every month also was hit hard.

And a lot regular patrons were affected, too.

"I had a lot of upset customers," he said, noting that since the blasts, his patron base has dwindled to a fraction of what it once was.

Butch Hart, 81, owner of CBK Electric, has eaten at Carleen's three to four times a week for the past 25 years or more.

When the place shut down after the disaster, "I starved," he joked.

Hart said he drove around for a while, looking for other places to eat, but had to go far afield to find a replacement for Carleen's.

Now that it's back, he's back.

But he's one of the few.


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