By KATIE HOOS
With what feels like unprecedented weather patterns battering the county this winter, local businesses are finding it difficult to dig out, blaming the snowy season for below average monthly sales and disappointing customer turnout.
On Feb. 13, a Nor’easter known as Pax left its mark on the east coast, bringing nearly a foot of snow and ice in less than 24 hours to some areas in Westchester. On the eve of Valentine’s Day, retailers, florists and candy stores that would normally be bombarded with holiday business, were left with empty stores and lackluster sales.
Valentine’s Day sales, which were expected to reach $17.3 billion this year according to the National Retail Federation, likely fell behind due to poor weather across the country.
Maria Valente, owner of Chocolations, a chocolate and sweets shop located at 607 E. Boston Post Road in Mamaroneck, said Valentine’s Day is her biggest day of business.
Last week’s snowstorm changed that.
“To lose [Valentine’s Day] or have it impacted from the snow the day before is a horrible thing,” Valente said. “By Christmas, business usually breaks even and on Valentine’s Day, we pull ahead. That didn’t happen this year.”
Valente said she normally sees high demand for chocolate-covered strawberries around Valentine’s Day, but is now left with dozens of unsold strawberries, which will go to waste. “You can’t possibly predict this,” she said. “This year has definitely been challenging with the snow.”
Even with 75 percent of her sales booked in advance of the holiday, Yoli LaGuerre, owner of YL Event Designs, a floral boutique located at 68 Purchase St. in Rye, still felt the impact of the snowfall.
“Walk-in sales are down whenever the weather is bad,” LaGuerre said. “Customers can’t find a parking space to run in and grab a bouquet because of all the snow mounds, and so whenever the weather is bad, they tend to think of a Plan B.”
LaGuerre added the recent snowstorm forced her to rearrange delivery schedules with her clients to make sure their Valentine’s Day arrangements arrived on time.
“It’s all about good service, and all of our clients appreciate that we have back-up plans and options instead of simply blaming the weather,” she said. “No matter what the weather may be, romantics will always find a way to get flowers.”
This year winter weather has been much more difficult than in recent times.
Westchester sees between 40 to 60 inches of snow each winter on average, according to data from the National Weather Service. Already this winter, total snowfall has reached more than 75 inches, crippling local businesses, shutting down schools and depleting salt supplies across the county.
Homeowners desperate to dig out rely on local hardware and home supply stores for supplies, but, due to high demand, storeowners are finding it difficult to keep their shelves stocked. Shovels, salt and other winter weather supplies are completely sold out at the Home Depot in New Rochelle, according to Assistant Store Manager Kar-loong Ng.
“We’re out of anything snow or winter weather-related,” Ng said, adding he is uncertain as to when the store’s salt and shovels will be restocked.
Ng also said, despite the store’s winter supply sales, business has been below average for this time of year.
“We definitely don’t have the kind of traffic we’re used to,” he said, citing the snow as a likely cause.
Businesses in Westchester are not alone in their snow-fueled despair.
According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, businesses across the nation are feeling the effects of the harsh winter, reporting lower than expected retail sales over the past three months, with apparel sales dropping roughly 1 percent in January.
Automobile sales also took a hit last month, with buyers less inclined to venture outside to purchase cars and trucks during the Polar Vortex—the Arctic cold front that descended upon the greater portion of the country in early January—when temperatures in New York plummeted to 5 degrees and 15 degrees below zero with wind chill factored in.
Ford, Toyota and GM reported lower-than-expected January sales over last year’s numbers with a 7 percent, 7.2 percent and 12 percent decline in sales respectively. Chrysler did manage to increase sales by 8 percent, selling mostly trucks and sport utility vehicles designed to handle winter conditions; Jeep sales increased by 38 percent; and Ram truck sales increased by 22 percent.
“The bad weather only seemed to affect our competitors’ stores, as we had a great January,” Reid Bigland, Chrysler’s head of U.S. sales, said.
Looking to gain a competitive edge, some local businesses are actually capitalizing on the poor weather conditions by remaining open in spite of the snow.
The Rye Grill and Bar, located across from the Rye Metro-North train station, was open during the Feb. 13 storm and saw a spike in business for that night’s dinner rush.
“Our policy is pretty much never to close,” Manager Erin Flynn said. “Since we are in town and a lot of people can walk to the restaurant, we stay open and people appreciate that.”
March 19 marks the official end to this year’s brutal winter and many business owners are hoping the detrimental snowstorms are behind them.
Valente of Chocolations said she is already thinking of the next holiday rush and is looking to recoup the losses she felt from a lackluster Valentine’s Day in the upcoming warmer months.
“You just have to keep moving forward,” she said. “We’re gearing up for the next holiday and filling the store windows with chocolate Easter bunnies. It’s all we can do.”