Want to make Treasure Valley business owners or employees laugh? Ask how the weather is treating them.
When the laughter dies down, they’ll say things like:
“It’s good for sales, I suppose.”
“We are super swamped.”
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“Our business is really cranking.”
“It’s the worst.”
The wintry mess plus wildly fluctuating temperatures have produced mixed results for local businesses.
For companies that sell goods and services you need in a winter emergency, the past month has been a moneymaker. So prodigious is the demand that they have struggled to keep up.
“People who do gutters and roofing and plumbing and water restoration right now are so busy that they’re turning down jobs,” said Mark Anderson, the owner of Meridian-based Disaster Response Team by Ultra Clean.
Anderson’s company had 20 people working in teams for 20 hours Sunday, after midweek snows followed by Thursday’s and Friday’s subzero nights and Sunday’s defrost wreaked havoc on buildings. He had to bring in subcontractors to help. Usually, it’s a busy Sunday if two people are working.
A local plumbing and heating, ventilation and air-conditioning company has received four times as many calls calls for service as usual in the past week — almost all emergencies like frozen pipes, dead furnaces and clogged drains. A1 Plumbing and Perfect Air’s 35 field workers are averaging 10-hour days.
“That little blast is definitely worse than what we’ve seen” in the past, said Max Schreiber, marketing manager for A1 in Garden City. “Thankfully, our guys are always read to rock ‘n’ roll when these type of situations hit, and they expect it.”
With more freezing and thawing in the forecast, Schreiber expects the calls to keep coming.
The rush was over for some tire shops — for Boise’s Costco and locally owned Bruneel Point S, the weeks before Christmas and Thanksgiving were busy, as people suited up their cars for holiday travel. But the odd customer has come in, slipping and sliding through the snow, said Craig Bruneel, president of the company formerly named Bruneel Tire Factory.
I’ve been frankly surprised that we’ve been as busy as we have this past week.
Craig Bruneel, president of Bruneel Point S tire and auto shops
Local Les Schwab stores said the rush hasn’t let up. Drivers are still buying chains and snow tires in higher-than-usual numbers, employees said.
And recent freezing temperatures killed a lot of car batteries, boosting Bruneel’s typical battery sales in December by 25 percent for the month, Craig Bruneel said.
Roofers cannot take on major roof repairs until the weather dries out. That means a lot of business is coming their way this spring. But Melba’s Mustang Roofing found another way to serve customers: snow removal.
“We’ve had seven [snow removal jobs] today,” co-owner Kendra Knight said Monday afternoon. “I’ve got calls booked for the next two days.”
Stay-at-homes hurt bars
But retailers and other businesses that rely on customers going out? They’re hoping for a literal dry spell.
“It’s horrible. Our sales are definitely down,” said Jordan Flynn, co-owner of PreFunk Beer Bar on the western fringe of Downtown Boise. “With all these [school] snow days, I think it’s hard for parents to be out. ... People are staying indoors as much as possible.”
For bars and shops like Flynn’s, the record 15 inches of snow on the ground late last week kept customers home. As snow plows cleared paths for drivers to venture out again, their good work had a bummer side effect, he said: those hills of snow and ice that built up along curbs and sidewalks. The pools of water and slush that followed Sunday’s melt have not made parking much easier.
Wintry mess ‘just shut it down’
Some businesses got both the good and the bad.
Idaho Mountain Touring’s bread and butter is outdoor supplies and gear — whether for recreation or getting around and surviving in extreme conditions. When weather forecasters predicted a dangerous ice storm last weekend, shoppers flocked in to buy propane for their emergency stoves, hand warmers and body warmers, long underwear, gloves and hats.
“Once things got really messy, it just shut it down,” said Chris Haunold, co-owner of the store at 1310 W. Main St., Boise. “Sunday is usually a pretty busy day. We did almost no business. ... Like a 95 percent drop from what would be normal.”
Keeping the store functioning has been more work than usual, he said. Shoveling snow became almost a part-time job.
Haunold said he is enjoying the snowfall, though. Families are sledding on Simplot Hill, people are snowshoeing, and Foothills trails were so frozen that Boiseans could use them without worrying about mud. On his time off, Haunold has gone from the shop to nearby Ann Morrison Park to cross-country ski.
One business owner in Downtown Boise told Lynn Hightower of the Downtown Boise Association that this month was the first time in 18 years that she closed early on a First Thursday.
But even hard-hit retailers tried to have fun with the novelty of the weather, Hightower said.
“Rediscovered Books acknowledged students spending their snow day in their shop reading,” she said. “And although they did close early due to snow Saturday, for First Thursday, when it was single digits, they had a program going, chose not to cancel it, and did have a pretty good turnout.”
Boise Co-op: hustling and waiting
People who live near the Boise Co-op have pulled on snow boots and trudged down to the North End natural-foods grocery store, wine shop and pet shop to buy whatever they can, said manager Matt Fuxan.
“Every day, there’s almost, like, a new problem, because the weather’s been so crazy for so long,” he said. “We shoveled more than I think we have in our entire lives over the past couple weeks.”
Two snow shovels have been plenty in past winters, he said. This year, five people simultaneously shoveling the parking lot were “just trying to keep up,” he said.
The store has gone through four times the usual number of slip-proof mats in a Sisyphean effort to keep floors dry. It burned through record amounts of ice melt. And there were a series of problems with the almost 60-year-old building, Fuxan said. For example, the co-op’s pet-shop drywall is water-damaged — another victim of ice dams and clogged downspouts.
It’s just been weird and interesting. Nothing has been normal.
Matt Fuxan, manager for the Boise Co-op in the North End
One major issue is compounding the problem: Deliveries have not shown up on time or at all as the weather thwarted delivery trucks from Seattle, Portland and California.
“Not only are your shelves bare because people are stocking up, but you’re also not getting deliveries,” Fuxan said.