Snow complicates sales forecast for some Triangle businesses

jmurawski@newsobserver.comFebruary 14, 2014 

— Many Triangle businesses that closed Thursday and wrote off a day of sales to snow-induced closures and cancellations are hoping home-bound customers will make up for it with weekend shopping sprees.

But for some businesses the financial hit can’t be recouped, while a few refused to shut down.

Closure was not an option at Balloons, Flowers & Gifts, a Raleigh florist on Hillsborough Avenue. The store depends on Valentine’s Day for as much as 20 percent of its annual sales.

On Thursday night, store owner Maxcine Matier bedded down on the floor amid the carnations, lilies and snapdragons. She wanted to be sure icy roads wouldn’t keep her from reporting to work early Friday morning to arrange nosegays for delivery and pickup.

“I was afraid I would not be able to get in here early,” Matier said. “I slept on a comforter. It was not comfortable at all.”

Matier is an extreme case of snow-coping strategy, but her anxiety was shared by business owners throughout the region who are not cavalier about losing sales for a day or longer.

The Hallmark card store in Cameron Village closed midday Wednesday and didn’t reopen until Friday. Valentine’s Day card racks, which should have been ransacked by Friday, were bulging with pink and red merchandise.

“We lost a crucial day,” said Hallmark card store manager Lora Denton. “We knew it would be traumatic. It’s a major holiday for us.”

Some businesses were closed for two days, not reopening until midday Friday. All three major shopping malls in the Triangle became ghost towns when impassable roads and unsafe conditions forced them to shut their doors Thursday.

“With this being a Valentine’s weekend, this was a tough call,” said Ashley Warrick, marketing manager for The Streets at Southpoint in Durham. She said the decision was especially difficult for businesses that thrive on romantic gift shopping, such as chocolate stores and jewelers.

Not all businesses are punished by bad weather, and for some it’s a boon. Purchases of clothing, furniture and appliances can be put off for a week, and a day or two of snow is not expected to significantly hurt the bottom line. Hardware stores typically see a spike in sales when customers make a run on shovels and power tools.

Most economic activity goes on because people can work remotely and shop online, economists said.

“These kinds of weather events are annoyances and inconveniences, but they don’t cause any long term harm to economies,” said N.C. State University economist Michael Walden.

Businesses like restaurants and retailers, however, are less likely to recoup lost sales. Those that depend on holiday sales are the least likely to benefit from make-up shopping days.

Reverie A Coffee Den, adjacent to Balloons, Flowers & Gifts, stayed open on Thursday and drew in students and neighbors with nowhere else to spend their money. Owner Salah Youssef said entire groups of sightseers marched into his coffee house.

“Everybody on the street was closed,” Youssef said. “You saw a lot of groups – 10, 12 people – walking and taking pictures.”

Trey Bailey, director of operations of Bailey’s Fine Jewelry in Cameron Village, said when a major storm approaches on the eve of Valentine’s Day, it’s no laughing matter.

“This scared us but we’re not as scared as we were,” Bailey said, noting a brisk crowd on Friday. “Our jewelry is not perishable, it’s going to be here next week.”

Bailey said he’d be happy if his business recoups some sales over the weekend.

Frank Amato, owner of Piccola Italia restaurant in Cameron Village, looked gloomy about his prospects on Friday. The restaurant was closed Wednesday and Thursday, and Amato’s staff had to throw out stale food, including 80 pizza pie doughs.

Despite the nearly full parking lots outside, his restaurant saw few customers as lunchtime approached.

“I figured this would be one of the best weeks of the year,” Amato said. “A couple of days closed – you’re talking about a lot of money.”

Murawski: 919-829-8932

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