February’s winter storms a ‘killer’ for commerce

Published 9:06 am Monday, March 2, 2015

NW0227 Snow Business Closings A

There’s nothing like a snow day when you’re a kid, but days filled with snow lose some of their appeal when you’re an adult.

Some people who are feeling the pain of the snow are local business owners and their employees as they try to make it to work and conduct business.

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Many businesses have been working on altered schedules or closing their doors completely in the past couple of weeks as people try to make their way on snow-slicked roads.

Several downtown businesses changed their schedules because of the snowy weather.

Bill Carter, owner of Ladybug Antiques, called the snow a “killer” for business, and said he closed his business early a few times because the snow kept the customers at home.

“I never closed completely, but there were some days when I closed in the afternoon and made an early day of it,” Carter said. “There is just no one out shopping when it snows.”

For Ladybug Antiques, the snow affects Carter as the business owner, but it also affects the vendors who have set up booths in the antique store to sell their merchandise.

“It’s not just me,” Carter said. “The vendors have also been hit by it. Sales have been down this month.”

Carter explained the decision to close or stay open during snowstorms was a hard one. By deciding to close early, there is the risk of missing out on possible customers. On the other hand, staying open on a slow business day could cost more in utilities than any revenue brought in.

“I’m sure it’s not just the small businesses that are impacted by this,” Carter said. “It probably hits the big retailers just the same.”

Dino’s Restaurant in downtown has seen business go up and down through the past two weeks, according to co-owner David Williams.

“Last week we were closed two days, on Wednesday and Thursday, for our employees’ safety,” Williams said. “The weekend had pretty good business, but this week has been all over the place. Monday and Wednesday were busy, but Tuesday and today (Thursday) have been slow.”

The decision to close the restaurant last week did hurt the bottom line, Williams said, but added the employees’ safety was more important than the financial considerations.

“We didn’t think it was worth it to put our employees at risk,” Williams said. “This week we have been working on a volunteer basis, so that if someone wants to work they can but if they say they can’t make it then it is not held against them.”

Elizabethton’s Chick-fil-A was another restaurant that took a snow day during the recent storms. The eatery closed completely for one day and opened late or closed early on a few others Regional Marketing Director Todd Good said.

“Honestly, when the snow came, we took our employees safety into consideration first,” Good said Thursday. “The money was secondary. It did affect us, but we put people before money. We are blessed to be able to open and running today.”

The restaurant opened later on Thursday – at 10:30 a.m. – missing out on the breakfast shift. Slick roads led to that decision, Good said.

Most of the financial institutions in the county also operated on shortened schedules or closed their doors completely in the past two weeks.

Northeast Community Credit Union worked a few days on a delay, not opening until around 10 a.m.

“The first thing we considered was safety,” NECCU CEO Kathy Campbell said. “We have people who live way up in Stoney Creek and over in Unicoi. We felt it was wise to delay opening until it was safer to get here. It was a hard decision to make. I definitely feel for the school superintendents who have to make those decisions all the time.”

The credit union’s branches had fewer people coming in during the bad weather, Campbell said, but added she believes members were still able to conduct their transactions and get their money, if needed.

“The good thing is, with ATMs and being able to get cash back on purchases, I think members were still able to get what they needed,” she said. “I think our members understand why we did it. We try to be open as much as we can. Right now, I think everyone is saying ‘Come on, spring’.”

The snow days could have a “huge ripple effect” on local economy, Carter County Tomorrow Director Tom Anderson said.

Many of the county’s industries work to supply parts and materials to other industries. Being closed or working on a delay would put them behind on their demands, Anderson said.

Also, if employees are missing work, and do not have the vacation days to cover the missed hours, Anderson said there will be a gap in available income to be spent in the local businesses. If schools and daycares are closed, employees may need to miss work to care for their children.

“There will be less disposable income floating around,” he said. “Some people plan for these instances, but when you are unprepared these things hurt.”

The exact impact of the snow days will be hard to quantify, Anderson said. He explained the issue has many different layers that all impact different areas in different ways.

“What happens is funds get shifted in the local economy,” he said. “Instead of having the extra income to go out, people may have to use that money for utility bills. But, when people do get out, they like to do things because they have been cooped up for a while. Hopefully this will just be blip in the economy since this has not been a prolonged event.”

In the midst of all the snow clouds, sometimes the easiest thing to do is look for the ray of sunlight.

“I am honestly not a big fan of snow, but secretly, inside, I enjoy the extra day off sometimes,” Williams said.