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The polar economy: Some Bemidji business goes up as mercury goes down

Dave Hamilton of Laporte called Southside Towning to jump start his vehicle on a very cold Tuesday morning. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)1 / 2
A city of Bemidji employee sweeps the sidewalks along Lake Boulevard on a frigid Tuesday morning. (Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer)2 / 2

BEMIDJI-- If there is a bright side to the bitterly cold weather this week in Bemidji, it is green in color.

Auto mechanics, towing services and plumbers all saw a boost in business as they fielded call after call to deal with dead batteries and frozen pipes.

AAA set a new record for daily service calls in Minnesota on Monday with 3,000 motorists seeking help during the frigid weather, a spokesperson said Tuesday.

Those numbers were reflected locally in the amount of calls Southside Towing of Bemidji responded to during the temperature drop: roughly three times the normal rate, according to dispatcher Gaylene Peter.

"That's way higher than normal," she said.

Peter said all the tows, jump starts and other calls for help kept Southside's road crews busy.

"They leave the shop and they don't come back until they go home," she said.

Dick's Northside auto repair shop has seen car batteries fly off the shelves like hotcakes.

"You get a cold snap and then...everybody that's been procrastinating on getting a battery, that's when it fails," said technician Tracy Desrosier.

Desrosier said a car battery typically lives for about three years but some can last as long as six before cutting out. Battery life depends in part on how it's treated by the driver.

"If you... kill the battery, drain it all the way dead, it never recovers all the way," he said.

Desrosier said Dick's also installs engine block heaters so people can plug in their vehicles to help keep them in working order.

Dick's Plumbing and Heating has experienced a boost with furnaces going out, but employee Tippy Gregg said insulation from snow has protected most pipes from freezing.

"We haven't had as many calls as we thought we would," she said.

The snow-insulation effect may not have helped a city water main on 19th Street that broke Sunday, requiring crews to work from mid-morning until about 4 p.m.. About 10 homes were without water during the repairs, said Craig Gray, Bemidji's public works director.

The offending one-foot section of cast-iron pipe dates back to 1947, Gray said.

Utilities supervisor Todd Anderson said the leaking water actually made it easier for city workers to dig out the line by thawing the surrounding soil -- but he couldn't help but employ a little sarcasm when describing the experience of repairing the break.

"Well, all water main breaks are fun when they're in the wintertime," he said.

Crews plowed away ice and laid down a salt/sand mixture to keep the nearby street from becoming too slippery.