Restaurant owners in Provincetown react to sewer failure at height of summer season

·4 min read

PROVINCETOWN— As a light drizzle began to cover Commercial Street Thursday morning, many tourists out and about looked to nearby restaurants to wait out the rain and enjoy a meal.

Much to their surprise, however, most places to eat on Provincetown's main drag were closed for the day.

On Aug. 11, Provincetown announced a state of emergency for all properties on the town's municipal vacuum sewer system after a storm damaged equipment and the system lost pressure.

The trouble started Aug. 9 after a power surge from a storm damaged some breakers, according to Jim Vincent, the town public works director. Hours later the vacuum system wasn’t operating and there wasn’t pressure in the system. The system was effectively waterlogged, Vincent said.

What we know on Friday: Provincetown sewer failure - live coverage

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Twisted Pizza Subs & Ice Cream owner Devon Corliss stood inside his closed shop Thursday after a sewer system failure caused town officials to declare a state of emergency. "The system in place is just not adequate," Corliss said. "It's an unfortunate situation. Pretty much 95% of Commercial Street is shut down."
Twisted Pizza Subs & Ice Cream owner Devon Corliss stood inside his closed shop Thursday after a sewer system failure caused town officials to declare a state of emergency. "The system in place is just not adequate," Corliss said. "It's an unfortunate situation. Pretty much 95% of Commercial Street is shut down."

All properties— many of which are restaurants— connected to the system were ordered to close while repairs were made, leaving some businesses unable to open during the busy August tourism season.

How much business could be lost in Provincetown with a sewer failure?

The food and beverage business in Provincetown amounted to $92 million in sales in 2019, and $53 million in 2020, according to town tourism records.

The system failure impacted approximately 356 properties extending along Commercial Street — from Snow to Point streets — and along Bradford Street — from Conwell to Prince streets, according to an emergency town leadership meeting Thursday.

Provincetown Town Crier Daniel Gomez Llata gives an update Thursday in front of Provincetown Town Hall about the sewer emergency. He included a list of restaurants that were still open.
Provincetown Town Crier Daniel Gomez Llata gives an update Thursday in front of Provincetown Town Hall about the sewer emergency. He included a list of restaurants that were still open.

Devon Corliss, owner of Twisted Pizza Subs and Ice Cream, watched as people on Commercial Street passed by his restaurant, a rack of magazines cordoning off the open door from the street.

More: COVID-19 wastewater sampling tests for virus variants in Provincetown

Twisted Pizza was one of many businesses on the vacuum sewer system that were forced to close.

"I don't like putting numbers out there but there will be revenue taken away because of this," Corliss said. "The system in place is just not adequate. It's an unfortunate situation. Pretty much 95% of Commercial Street is shut down."

What does a business owner think about the sewer failure?

"Nightmare" is the word that came to mind for Guillermo Yingling, co-owner of Spiritus Pizza on Commercial Street.

"Having to close on what could have potentially been the busiest day of the year, there's no way to recoup that income," Yingling said.

Spiritus Pizza is on its own septic system, independent of the public sewer system. The pizza shop was able to stay open Thursday during the emergency, according to Yingling.

But the same couldn't be said for sister restaurants Bubala's By the Bay and Local 186, both of which are on the vacuum sewer system.

A crew from the Provincetown water department uses a Trav-L-Vac on Thursday along Bradford Street. The equipment is used to clean sewer system valve boxes.
A crew from the Provincetown water department uses a Trav-L-Vac on Thursday along Bradford Street. The equipment is used to clean sewer system valve boxes.

"We had a huge septic system that worked fine before we had to hook up to the town's," John Yingling, co-owner of Spiritus Pizza and Bubala's said. "This sewer system is the most ridiculous thing."

Some restaurants are able to stay open with prepackaged food

Some businesses on the sewer system such as The Coffee Pot near MacMillan Wharf were able to stay open by only selling prepackaged food and bottled drinks.

More: Five years after 2017 fire, iconic Surf Club restaurant reopens in Provincetown

Nelson Vital, owner of The Coffee Pot, said a town employee came by his restaurant with a flier about the emergency.

"It's definitely creating problems," Vital said. "I don't know how long this is going to last."

Commercial Street in Provincetown was busy Thursday despite the sewer emergency that closed some restaurants and public restrooms.
Commercial Street in Provincetown was busy Thursday despite the sewer emergency that closed some restaurants and public restrooms.

Pat Medina, a Provincetown resident and tour guide on the Mayflower Trolley, thought the sewer shutdown's impact on the community could be seen almost immediately.

"Now restaurants can't do anything, it's impacting rentals too, you know, they have to keep their customers happy," Medina said. "And as a tour guide, I rely on the public bathrooms, too."

More: In 2009, the town of Provincetown's sewer system failed on a holiday weekend

She applauded the town's response to the emergency but was disappointed that the system had to shut down in the first place.

In this Provincetown sewer system map, the brown shaded area is the vacuum system that is under an emergency alert.
In this Provincetown sewer system map, the brown shaded area is the vacuum system that is under an emergency alert.

"The DPW and traffic cops, they're working like dogs," Medina said. "It just shouldn't have happened. We paid a lot of money to be connected to this, and it just shouldn't have happened. August is the moneymaker, it's definitely impacted the community."

A broken sewer system hasn't been the only trial Provincetown has faced recently, Guillermo Yingling said as he stood outside his pizza restaurant.

"We had COVID, and then the Delta variant and those shut us down for months, and now we have brown town."

Sarah Carlon can be reached at: scarlon@capecodonline.com or on Twitter @sarcarlon

This article originally appeared on Cape Cod Times: Provincetown sewer emergency draws reaction from restaurant owners