Flood drops wet blanket on bear weekend
by Lois Pearlman
Just after dusk on Friday, December 30, Ed Martinez was standing in front of Club Fab in downtown Guerneville under a marquee that read "Marga Gomez, Jan. 1"
"Even though we're friends it's taken us three years to find a date when she wasn't on tour and there wasn't something else happening in town that would detract from her show," Martinez said as the steady downpour dripped rain on everything in sight.
The weather forecasters were predicting that the Russian River would flood by the following day and all bets were off on the Marga Gomez show and some 20 other events scheduled for the New Year's bear weekend, called Hairrison Grrrrrrrrneville by its organizers, the San Francisco-based PrideWorks. Still, Martinez was loath to cancel his show.
"I'll wait until tomorrow afternoon to tell her, 'No, I won't be coming to pick you up,'" he said.
It was especially sad for Martinez because a New Year's Eve party and the Gomez show were to be Club Fab's last hurrah before closing the doors on its five years as the Russian River's most exotic night spot.
Next door, at Kings and Queens vintage clothing store, Mikki Herman and her friends and family filled plastic boxes with jewelry and business supplies, and talked about where they would stash the clothes. They eventually ended up storing them at Club Fab, which only took floodwater in its lower dance floor when the New Year's flood of 2005 arrived the following day.
By mid-day Friday Fife's had already shut down for the weekend. The following morning, the Russian River Resort, the Woods, the Brookside Lodge, and others in the low wetland area just north of Guerneville's Main Street closed for business. The bear weekend was canceled. Pete King, the organizer of Hairrison Grrrrrrneville, could not be reached for comment over the weekend but posted a statement on his Web site alerting partygoers to the cancellation.
The upcoming Polar Bear event that was scheduled for the Martin Luther King holiday weekend also has been canceled, producer Harry Lit of Castrobear Presents told the Bay Area Reporter in an e-mail Tuesday.
Some of the tourists who decided to stay and spend a cozy weekend indoors were able to book a room at the Highlands, which is situated on a hillside above downtown Guerneville.
Watching the storm from the Highlands front porch on Saturday afternoon, Jeff Seegers said it wasn't the bear weekend that brought him and a group of friends to the Russian River.
"We've been coming here every New Year's for five years now," he said. "[When I realized it was going to flood] I thought about leaving for about five minutes, but I decided to stay. We were planning on staying until Monday, anyway. We'll probably be able to leave on Tuesday.
"We're cooking a big dinner tonight and then we'll probably walk down to the Rainbow [Cattle Company]. Part of the reason we come here is because there's nothing to do. I'm more concerned about people who live here who might lose their homes."
Highlands owner Ken McLean told the B.A.R . that a group stayed in the resort through the weekend. They left on Monday, January 2, after River Road reopened. McLean said he lost some business from people who couldn't make it to the resort.
By Saturday, all of the low-lying areas along the river and near the creeks were under water. On Sunday, January 1, Guerneville was briefly cut off from the rest of the world. On Monday the main roads were clear in all directions.
Coffee Bazaar barista Mason McGahan told the B.A.R. that they were untouched by flooding. The coffee house, owned by longtime resident Bob Young is on Armstrong Woods Road, just off Main Street. It never lost power and was able to keep River residents caffeinated throughout the storm. McGahan noted that most businesses along Main Street came through
Young told the B.A.R. that people planning to make reservations for the summer Lazy Bear event should be patient while resorts clean up before reopening.
"It's a big economic blow to the town," Young said of the flood.
Late Monday morning Ben DiCarli and Daryl Cullen were watching from their candle shop, Wicked Scents, as an unending stream of traffic flowed cautiously out of Guerneville along still-muddy River Road.
DiCarli said they were lucky because their downstairs workshop was flooded, but not their upstairs shop where they keep all their merchandise. On New Year's Eve the couple waded into town to celebrate at the Rainbow with about 40 other people, mostly locals. By that time the Rainbow and the Liquid Sky bar across the street were among the handful of places open in Guerneville.
Their neighbor, Wayne Wieseler, co-owner of the Willows bed and breakfast, was also standing outside in shorts, taking a break from his work. Only the garages on the first floor of the Willows had flooded. Inside, everything was piled high above floor level – an effort that turned out to be an unnecessary precaution.
"When we bought this place we decided to make sure that we could move everything from downstairs in an hour," Wieseler said.
Tuesday afternoon, Leslie Sachrison was helping her boss at the Russian River Resort hose down the mud and assess what else they had to do to reopen by their target date, Easter weekend. The entire resort was flooded and the rooms in the back went under by six or seven feet.
"We'll get all new furniture, new mattresses, new carpets. Hopefully the bar will be open next month," she said.
Down the block, Verna Preaseau and her son Michael, co-owners of the Woods, were scrubbing the floor in the front office and ripping up water logged carpets and wallboard. A dumpster in front of the motel was half full with wet carpet padding and lumber.
Verna Preaseau said only about a third of their 16 rooms had flooded, so they expect to stay open for business while they make repairs.
"We were so lucky. Another six hours [of the river rising] and the top [rooms] would have gone," she said. "I was just so happy it didn't all go under. It's just one of those things. You know itÕs going to happen every 10 years real bad. I'm just glad nobody got hurt or killed."
Back at Club Fab, Martinez said the positive attitude that most Russian River business people are expressing this week may be a little hard to maintain once the hard work of collecting insurance money and restoring their flood-damaged buildings begins.
"The real pain hasn't started yet," he said. "The real struggle is getting through the spring and summer. The customers will be slow coming back."
Martinez was not in any rush to clean up at Club Fab because it will not reopen as a nightclub. He and his partner, Gregg Seiler, have given up their liquor license and restored the venue to its original name, the River Club. Without a liquor license that prohibits minors, they hope to rent the spot out for community events, like proms, parties, and concerts.
"We'll have to reinvent ourselves," he said.
Reporter Ed Walsh contributed to this article.