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COOKIE EMPIRE DIDN’T CRUMBLE

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After 13 years of doing business in the Bay area of California, it wasn't until this year that Mrs. Fields Inc. finally decided to take out some earthquake insurance.

"Having lived through a bunch of earthquakes, it (disaster insurance) struck us as silly," said company chairman Randy Fields, a native of northern California. "But our risk manager told us rates were reasonable now and this was the first year we've ever had it."And it was a good thing. On the evening of Oct. 17, Fields was in Chicago when he received a call from the home office in Park City telling him that a devastating earthquake had hit northern California, where Mrs. Fields operates 100 cookie stores and bakery-cafes.

The next day all of those stores were closed, costing the cookie company an estimated $100,000 in revenue and, as yet, an unknown amount of physical damage. No employees or customers were injured or killed in the quake, which has taken 59 lives and cost billions of dollars.

By Monday this week, all but five of Mrs. Fields' stores had reopened, and those that hadn't will be closed for an undetermined amount of time. Those five are located in Santa Cruz, Los Gatos and three in San Francisco.

"Overall, we are blessed with what little happened" to the stores and employees, Fields said.

He said the worst part of the ordeal was trying to communicate with the company's local managers the following day. Phone lines were jammed, and it wasn't until supervisors called in on their cellular car phones that contact was made with the home office.

"We had reports of heroism. Given the difficult circumstances, we are proud of our people and the managers who stayed with the stores to make sure they were OK. A number of stores donated cookies and sandwiches" to the rescue cause, Fields said.

He explained that being a native of the area and having experienced several earthquakes himself, he didn't anticipate any serious damage or store closures. He was surprised at the amount that did occur.

Fields, who traveled to San Francisco Tuesday to assess firsthand the damage to his stores, said that based on photographs and reports, most of the stores and equipment surprisingly remained intact, but the buildings they are located in suffered serious damage preventing a quick reopening.

Although an exact cost of repairs hasn't been tallied, Fields said the insurance purchased last spring to cover property damage and business interruption costs will cover a good share of it.

"It's better than nothing, but it's not as good as everything," he said.