YOU ARE HERE: HeraldMail HomeCollectionsSnow

Warm weather puts bite on winter business

February 18, 1998|By BRENDAN KIRBY

Warm weather puts bite on winter business

A large sign outside Alpine Ski Rental in Clear Spring might sum up the year for owner Chris Dattilio: 50 percent off.

Dattilio, whose shop is along the route taken by many skiers heading for Whitetail Ski Resort near Mercersburg, Pa., said he depends on skiers renting equipment. He estimated that business is down between 25 percent and 30 percent.

"It's been pretty similar to Whitetail's," he said. "Their numbers are down, so my numbers are down We can't control the weather."


It has been so warm most of the winter that the store is stocked with hats, gloves, goggles and other cold-weather accessories, Dattilio said. He has slashed prices in half in an attempt to get rid of the merchandise.

The region has had only one major snowstorm this winter and has recorded only 9.7 inches of snow, compared with an average of almost 30 inches, according to Hagerstown weather observer Greg Keefer's records.

Not only has there been little snow, but temperatures have been above average. Last month was the fifth warmest January on record, and the National Weather Service forecasts highs in the upper 40s or 50s through at least Monday.

The unseasonably warm temperatures this winter have been a joy to many but a blow to businesses that depend on snow.

Several merchants in the Tri-State area said they have had trouble unloading snow blowers, shovels and other snow-removal equipment.

"It's been terrible as far as power equipment is concerned," said Dave Smith, manager of the Farm & Family Center on Massey Boulevard. "The closer it gets to spring, the more risk people are willing to take. They don't want to make a big purchase."

Smith said the store cut $100 off the price of a $799 8-horsepower snow blower.

"But still no activity. People are thinking more about lawn mowers," he said.

Smith said he shipped a number of snow blowers to stores in northern states that have experienced harsher weather.

Ed Sherensky, manager of the Kmart in Chambersburg, Pa., said his store has a pile of heavy snow equipment remaining.

"It's a lot in size and volume as opposed to dollar value," he said.

Sherensky said the price of the items remains the same. Equipment that is not purchased by the end of the season will simply be boxed up and put out for sale next year, he said.

"It's not something that will go stale or bad," he said. "The sale of these items isn't determined by price; it's the need. To entice people to buy based on price, you'd have to discount it so much that it would not be economical."

The weather affects some businesses in a different way.

J Vance & Sons, an Inwood, W.Va., company, has had virtually no contract snow removal work this year, said Jaime Vance. But he said the business concentrates mainly on selling parts and equipment for trucks.

"It's not like we gear up waiting months for snow," he said. "The money market has much more of an effect on us than the weather."

Not every home improvement business has had an awful year in terms of snow equipment sales.

Manager Roger Hucker said the Lowe's on Wesel Boulevard in Hagerstown has only 11 snow blowers left in stock. He said the store sells those items whenever forecasts call for snow.

"All in all, it really hasn't been that bad a year. Just the scares are enough to sell them," he said. "It's really surprising."

Despite the scarcity of snow, the winter has taken a greater toll on the Washington County Roads Department that might be expected, said Transportation Superintendent J. Theodore Wolford.

Wolford said county roads officials have laid rock salt on 15 days this winter, mostly due to freezing rain and sleet. Icy roads present far more challenges, he said.

"This has been quite a year for sleet and freezing rain," he said. "I'd rather have a foot of snow than freezing rain or sleet."

Because icy roads require far more rock salt than snowstorms, Wolford said the department has exceeded its $110,000 budget by about $4,000. But he said the county has saved money on overtime costs because it has not had to do a great deal of labor-intensive plowing.

Assuming the region does not get socked the rest of the winter, Wolford said it probably will not have to purchase as much salt this October.

The Herald-Mail Articles