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Stores turn down lights to help out


(Published: Tuesday, January 30, 2001)

They can't shut off the dairy case, and they're loath to dim all the security lights, but retailers nonetheless are trying to cut their electricity use.

A sampling of stores in the Northern San Joaquin Valley found that the retail sector -- like government, industry and residents -- is conserving during the state's power crisis.

At Gottschalks at the Vintage Faire Mall, the main interior lights remain on, but the track lighting that accents some merchandise is off.

The overhead lights are efficient fluorescent fixtures, but the track lighting is relatively wasteful incandescent bulbs, operations manager Linda Anderson said.

The store has temporarily moved its weeknight closure from 9 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., saving even more juice.

"We talked about possibly turning off escalators, but we decided against that because people complain," she said.

Save Mart supermarkets have reduced their lighting 15 percent to 25 percent, said Ray Agah, director of engineering at the chain's Modesto headquarters.

"Some customers appreciate it," he said. "Some customers gripe about it." Grocery stores use plenty of energy to keep the frozen food frozen, as well as to keep meat and dairy products from spoiling, Agah said. "Save Mart is not about to accept "borderline" food safety for the sake of saving kilowatts".

But the stores overall are efficient, he said, because the waste heat from the refrigeration machinery is captured to provide most of the space heating in winter. In effect, the coolers are keeping shoppers warm.

Agah said the water for cleanup at the stores also is warmed by waste heat from refrigeration machinery.

The Save Mart corporate office on Standiford Avenue has cut office lighting 50 percent and has snuffed the lights completely in hallways with skylights, he said.

Much of the potential for energy conservation was achieved long before California entered the current crisis of tight supplies and high prices. The federal government set standards for appliances. Engineers designed efficient lighting, heating and cooling into buildings.

But the recent troubles have prompted retailers to look for savings on top of what's normal.

"We try as we leave rooms to turn out the lights," Anderson said.

At Ultimate Hair on McHenry Avenue, the electric sign in front is dimmed. "One day the electricity went out over here for an hour and a half," said employee Tino Scarpinati. "We don't want it to happen again."

Stores that sell lighting fixtures help in two ways. First, they are meeting an increasing demand for fluorescent bulbs, which screw into many fixtures that use incandescent bulbs. Second, their key selling strategy -- a showroom glowing with powered-up lights -- is getting toned down.

"We've just stopped turning on the lights," said Cheryl Borges, an employee at Manteca Lighting. "We usually keep some lit, but we've just turned them off."

Phillips Lighting and Home in Modesto has put fluorescent bulbs in some of the fixtures it keeps lighted, and others have been turned off.

"We have some darker areas of our store where we've sacrificed some of the light," manager Carrie Arnold said. "What we sell is lighting, and if we can't light them up, they don't sell very well."

-- Swissrose (, January 31, 2001

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