Along with the odor of burning gas, an atmosphere of uncertainty permeated the heart of the Fairfax business district Monday.
"You predicate everything on an expected cash flow, and when that cash flow is interrupted, you're jeopardized," newsstand owner Bob Burns said. "The little guys live or die by the cash flow, and when it's interrupted, you're left hanging."
More than 160 shopkeepers at the Farmers Market and two adjacent shopping malls were facing the same dilemma as Burns on Monday: waiting for word on when they could reopen for business after Sunday afternoon's methane gas explosion at Ross Dress for Less clothing store in the 6200 block of West 3rd Street.
Authorities closed the shops indefinitely as gas continued to flow out of an underground pocket believed responsible for the blast, which injured 22 people.
Flames still danced in fissures in the ground in and around the clothing store on Monday afternoon as Burns, standing in the Farmers Market parking lot, looked across 3rd Street toward his business in the Town and Country Mall and pondered his losses.
'It'll Crucify Me'
"I do $700, $800 a day," Burns said. "It'll crucify me. All the capital I had went into a small business like this.
"I'm insured if my place is destroyed, but not for a business interruption. This makes you think of farmers and other people who had extraneous events that place them in a life-threatening situation."
The situation was not quite as severe for Theo Mayer and Peter Inebnit, owners of a television production company next door to the remnants of the clothing store.
"If we get back in this afternoon, fine," Inebnit said. "If the building blows up, that's fine too; the insurance company pays us. But as long as we're in limbo, we're nowhere."
John McCormick, owner of Oliver's Place, a gourmet cookware shop in Farmers Market, said he was glad that the Fire Department closed the shopping landmark for the day to allow the methane gas to burn off, even if it was costing him money.
"You get thousands of people in here," McCormick said. "If they have thousands of people in here during an explosion, that would make no sense at all."
McCormick said the closure of his shop was costing him between $600 and $800 a day. He said, however, that he was aware that he was sitting on top of an oil field--and potential problems--when he set up shop 10 years ago.
"Sure I knew there was an oil field here," he said. "But who pays attention to that stuff?"
Nazio Tchakarian, manager of DuPar's Restaurant, wondered if the explosion might scare off customers.
"People will be scared to come back, right?" he asked.
Meanwhile, in the Park La Brea apartment complex south of Farmers Market, Brice Burkett, 61, who was standing less than 200 yards from the site of the explosion, wondered if another pocket of methane gas might be bubbling underneath his residence.
"We could be sitting on a bomb keg," he said.
Jessie Elliott, a 15-year resident of the complex, said she has long been aware of the geological formation beneath her. There was no way she could avoid it, she said.
"I used to wake up in the middle of the night and smell oil," she said. "But I didn't attach any importance to it.
"Now it's a very scary thing to me. I know there's oil under all of this ground. I wonder if there's any danger of another explosion."