ST. JOSEPH — Melanie Owen hadn’t been working for more than 20 minutes when the lights went out Tuesday.

As co-owner of the Lazy Ballerina Winery in downtown St. Joseph, Owen watched as the majority of her customers left the building.

Despite the lack of electricity, she was able to stay open and accept payment because her point of sale system is battery-powered and can be used offline.

“I’ve been steady all day,” Owen said while pouring a couple glasses for a tasting. “People will drink in the dark.”

In addition to the downtown area, a large swath of St. Joseph lost power Tuesday, as far north as the Berrien County Courthouse and as south as the Napier/Niles intersection. Traffic lights along Main Street were off and traffic slowly moved along M-63.

The power was restored to St. Joseph around 5 p.m. Tuesday. According to Indiana Michigan Power officials, about 2,700 customers were affected by the outage.

I&M spokeswoman Schnee Garrett said the power was shut down so an adjustment could be made to a piece of company equipment.

“What happened was we needed to replace a piece of our equipment,” Garrett said in a phone interview. “We had to turn the power off so our crews could safely make those repairs. Then our crews went about restoring the power.” Garrett did not clarify whether the repair was planned ahead of time, or an immediate necessity.

Businesses and homeowners were not alerted ahead of time of the outage.

Downtown came to a virtual standstill at 12:20 p.m. – the large downtown clock reflecting that time.

Most of the businesses closed for the day and placed signs in windows alerting of the outage.

Others got creative.

Jennifer Fillwock could be seen cutting hair in dim lighting.

Fillwock, owner of Statements Style Lounge, was still hard at work during outage, using the chair closest to the window for natural light.

Warm water was still running, but Fillwock couldn’t use any blow dryers afterward. Other than using old-fashioned scissors, staff also put their rechargeable clippers to good use.

“It’s been a day,” Fillwock said. “We’ve had people leave here with wet hair.”

Zach Manger, an area manager for Jimmy John’s, was going back and forth between the St. Joseph and Benton Harbor locations Tuesday.

Because they serve food, Jimmy John’s kept every container closed and brought in cooling units, along with buckets of ice.

Manger said they had to hold “old school” transactions by accepting cash or taking down credit card information to process afterward.

The Chocolate Cafe couldn’t sell any of its ice cream, as workers attempted to keep the freezers cold.

One by one, each battery-powered cash register died over the course of the five-hour outage. Denise Gordon, Chocolate Cafe manager, said they moved from taking credit cards to only accepting exact change.

“I’m just keeping everything shut. There’s nothing else you can do,” Gordon said. 

While the streets were bare after the crowd saw stores close, Gordon said she was thankful the outage occurred on a weekday.

This past weekend, downtown St. Joseph saw heavy crowds for Chalk the Block, Antiques on the Bluff and the St. Joseph Farmer’s Market.

The Toy Company remained open, with a few customers remaining inside playing with toys in the dark.

“From a business standpoint, we lost a lot of people,” co-owner Andy Vescolani said. “They all cleared out when the power went out. But more have been trickling in since then.”

Wanderlust Outfitters stuck it out thanks to internet hotspots and large windows.

Brittany Meier, co-owner of the outdoor sports store, was in an office downstairs when power was lost. After she fished out her cellphone for light and made her way upstairs, the staff went to work on keeping things moving.

With the amount of light coming in from the store’s windows, Meier likened it to ambiance lighting.

“We are running a remote setup on a laptop, so we can still do credit cards and take cash,” Meier said. “Our customers have been good sports. They’ve used their phones to light up the fitting rooms and have gone with the flow.”

Contact:, 932-0358, Twitter: @TonyWittkowski