While the snow and ice are long gone, Tom Meyer is still feeling the sting from the crippling weather that quieted the Triangle over a handful of days in the first three months of 2015.
Mother Nature this year has cost Meyer $25,000 in revenue after his four eateries were closed a total of 16 days. Ideally, Meyer said, he’ll cover the loss with savings, or ask his vendors to work with him on his payments.
“It has a huge effect on us and all the vendors that support us,” said Meyer, who owns Raleigh’s The Q Shack in North Hills and Pogo Cafe next to Marbles Kids Museum, Sprout Cafe at the Museum of Life and Science in Durham and Greens at UNC Hospital.
As forecasters start to predict snow, Meyer and other small-business owners in the Triangle assess and stress as they plan how to safely navigate the aftermath and avoid a debilitating loss.
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Some have had success with tools such as meticulous planning, employee coordination and a dab of that small-business moxie often found at the about 800,000 small firms in the state, which contribute nearly half of the gross state product and account for 45 percent of private sector employment.
While owners took into consideration road conditions and general safety, some opened their businesses to serve their mission as a neighborhood restaurant or snow-day party place. Others, they said, fed an obligation to survive, deliver a promised product or take in stir-crazy kids.
After ice and snow, the museums control whether Meyer’s cafes open, but generally he does everything he can to open The Q Shack to feed those living and working at North Hills.
The general plan is for Meyer, who grew up in New Jersey and has a four-wheel drive vehicle, and his general manager, who owns a Jeep, to make their way to North Hills. At a minimum, the two can cook and serve smoked pork and beef to a healthy crowd on snow days.
Out of 11 winters he has only closed Q Shack one day – sort of.
Meyer shut down the place once this year after assessing road conditions and surrounding businesses’ responses and listening to a gut feeling. That day, however, he still cooked and delivered four already-placed and confirmed orders.
“I made enough on the sale to pay the rent for the day,” he said.
Neighborhood bars stay open
In Durham, a completely different scene emerged at two neighborhood restaurants on the Thursday morning in February in which thousands lost power due to a wet, heavy snow.
While most restaurants in downtown Durham closed that day, Gray Brooks said it was an easy decision to keep Pizzeria Toro open. It’s the same reason he’s open seven days a week.
“We see ourselves first and foremost as a neighborhood restaurant,” he said, that exists because of the Durham community. “You feel a responsibility to be open on those days.”
The preparation process includes watching the forecast, finding out which employees are available and which ones live close by or on a street that is plowed first. Ideally, Brooks stocks up on supplies before a storm to prepare for delayed deliveries, but he will limit his menu to what he has available.
While many businesses didn’t open during three bad weather days this year, Pizzeria Toro did. The restaurant was busier than normal two of those days and a lot slower than usual on another.
“So it varies,” he said.
Over on Ninth Street, Dain Phelan, owner of the cozy pub Dain’s Place, opens not only to serve customers but for the overarching obligation to host snow-day revelry.
“It’s like a Mardi Gras event,” said Phelan, who catered to a crowd that included East Campus students, residents of nearby neighborhoods and people who lived on streets that had been scraped or plowed. “People come out of nowhere. Everyone’s walking. Everyone is drinking more than they normally do. Everyone is a little louder.”
Before the snow, Phelan stayed in Durham instead of his Hillsborough home, but opening Dain’s Place the next day was delayed by the loss of power. By 1 p.m., however, a snowman with a beer and a small guitar greeted a steady flow of hungry and thirsty customers.
“I kind of pride myself on opening through good and bad,” said Phelan, who grew up in the northeast where snowstorms “always meant going to bars.” Some employees live within walking distance, and other times Phelan has picked up his employees or he’s worked the kitchen by himself.
Phelan, however, didn’t open the other place he co-owns, Heavenly Buffaloes. Half of the revenue from the 300-square-foot wing joint relies on deliveries made by drivers in sedans.
“I felt like the wise employer decision is not make anyone drive,” he said.
At The Performance Academy in Apex, opening on snow days is a public service and an opportunity, said Bill Burniston, director of sports performance and one of the owners of the company that offers athletic training and day camps.
During the latest storms, the business typically opened on a delay, and once offered a special in which parents could drop off their kids for a $25 daylong camp. Parents who had to work had a place to take their kids, and The Performance Academy got an opportunity to attract new customers, Burniston said.
Bob Liddle, owner of Kustom Koozies, which ships its products to Australia, Europe and across the U.S., pushes up deadlines before anticipated bad weather just in case the delivery service can’t pick up his shipments. Before the wet snow this year, he borrowed his parents’ four-wheel drive and picked up two employees on his way to the office.
“The (customer) in Florida could care less,” about snow, Liddle said.
Last year, North Raleigh Florist faced the ultimate test. Just two days before Valentine’s Day, the area was surprised by a snowstorm. The company’s response included employees staying at owner Janice Cutler’s house, limiting delivery areas and lots of phone calls and communication.
The business didn’t close that week, but it was still down about $3,000 compared to the year before, Cutler said.
What would she do differently next time? Get customer contact information for work and home.
“Making sure we can reach them anytime, even if it is evening,” she said.
The cost of a snow day
Total economic impact of a 1-day shutdown by state in 2010, according to IHS Global Insight.
Illinois: $401 million
Kentucky: $96 million
Maryland: $184 million
New Jersey: $289 million
New York: $700 million