Wintry weather having uneven effect on local firms

Posted: February 17, 2014

It has been a tough week for florists. And restaurants. And jewelers. And airlines. Oh, make that just about any business that depends on customers.

After a relentless weeks-long onslaught of rough winter weather, Mother Nature did its best on Thursday to deck what was left of our region's economy.

A foot of snow closed malls, shuttered stores, delayed travelers, and kept legions of workers at home with their wallets.

"It is like everything else," said economist Joel Naroff of Bucks County. "There are winners and losers. In this instance, overall, the economy is the loser."

Just how great a loser and for how long are difficult to tell. The numbers are still being tallied - from last week and the winter in general. But in the short term, there are snapshots big and small.

What is common is weariness tinged with gallows humor among merchants. And economists would console them with this fact: Bad weather delays purchases. Patrons will come back another day.

Imperiling a holiday, however, can mean lost business, and that was the case for, say, restaurants booked for Valentine's Day dinners.

Restaurateur Stephen Starr, for instance, estimated 4,000 diners canceled Valentine's Day plans because of the storm, costing 800 to 900 workers a day's pay.

Peco estimated the Feb. 5 ice storm cost it between $90 million and $120 million in repairs, money that ultimately comes from ratepayers.

SEPTA has spent about $7.9 million in storm costs, compared with typical winter expenses of $4 million to $5 million.

American Airlines reported it canceled 6,000 flights last week, many scheduled to arrive in or depart from Philadelphia.

"Weather generally has a significant but temporary impact on the economy," said Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody's Analytics in West Chester. "This winter has been long and brutal and has been weighing on economic activity since December. It is starting to show up in the data. And it is going to show up in the data well into the summer."

Said Rob Wonderling, president of the Greater Philadelphia Chamber of Commerce: "Clearly, now there is a concern about lost productivity and sales."

Lost sales? Talk to Starr.

"This winter has been devastating," he said Friday. "I have 30-some restaurants in Philadelphia, New York, and Washington. It cost us hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars in sales."

Then there is the King of Prussia mall, which was closed Thursday, a decision not made lightly, said Les Morris, a spokesman for mall owner Simon Property Group of Indianapolis.

"You're dealing with one of the largest malls in the United States from a size perspective," Morris said, "and a large economic engine for the area."

Offering no specifics about how much money had been lost, Morris pointed out the mall also closed early due to wintry weather Jan. 21 and Feb. 3.

"On the upside," he said Friday afternoon, "today, the mall is packed."

Sharon Matricardi-Peretz, 50, owner of Diamonds R4 Ever, a jewelry kiosk in the Deptford Mall, was assessing her damage Friday afternoon.

"Yesterday, I was at home. I wanted to cry," she said, because she closed before Valentine's Day.

V-Day is bigger than Christmas for her store. She and her husband have another mall in Hamilton, which was open: "My husband did phenomenal."

"Believe it or not, I think we're going to be OK," she said. "I'm not going to complain. . . . Just as long as I'm not taking a loss, I'm OK."

"January, believe it or not, we broke even."

Sergio Coagn is owner of Just Pierce It!, a kiosk in the Deptford Mall.

"We lose a lot of money" when the weather is bad, he said. "I'm never worried. . . . One day you make money, one day you lose money.

"The weather is a factor . . . but the people who want to come to shop, they shop."

The measure of lost sales, of course, is relative. Just ask Heather Arata, owner of Earth & State, a pottery and crafts shop in Media. She was delighted that she made two sales Thursday.

"That's more than we expected," she said.

Business is not as good as in many past winters, but Arata said she's hoping for better luck next year.

"I can be a control freak, but I can't control this," she said.

Talk to other merchants in the Delaware County seat and it is evident the weather has had an uneven impact.

Jim DeCorso is one merchant with no complaints: Snowy weather is good news for the owner of Media Ski & Snowboard.

"People that haven't skied in seven, eight years are coming out this year," he said.

Sinfully Delicious Gourmet Pastries was not doing as well.

Even with clear blue skies and increased traffic Friday, owner Tammy Murray said business remained slow. She said it was difficult for shoppers to park and walk through the banks of snow piled on narrow streets.

"I'm still crossing my fingers for later," Murray said.

Business has lagged all winter, Murray said, and she has stopped trying to open the store when snowstorms hit.

"I threw my hands up," she said.

Safian & Rudolph, the Center City jeweler, also closed Thursday.

"That hurts the day before Valentine's Day," owner Rich Goldberg said. "But we had a strong several weeks leading up, so things sometimes balance out."

In Media, at Local Home & Gifts, Monica Schramm attributes some of her lagging business to school cancellations. With children at home, mothers are not shopping on weekdays for gifts and baby items.

Schramm has been in business for seven years, and she said the constant snow and ice this winter were "unlike any one that we've been here for."

Standing in her empty store Friday afternoon, Schramm said she hoped for a busy spring to make up for a lack of sales in the last few months.

"We are hopeful," she said, "that with all the cabin fever people probably have, that spring will make up for the quiet time."


chepp@phillynews.com

215-854-2594

Inquirer staff writers Andrew Maykuth, Linda Loyd, and Maria Panaritis contributed to this article.

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