CARS HOMES JOBS

Snowfall keeps some Capital Region shoppers home

Sunday, December 15, 2013
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A driver gets inventive with a parking spot at Colonie Center Mall on Sunday, December 15, 2013. The parking lots were crowded with shoppers despite the overnight snowfall.
Photographer: Patrick Dodson
A driver gets inventive with a parking spot at Colonie Center Mall on Sunday, December 15, 2013. The parking lots were crowded with shoppers despite the overnight snowfall.

— A lot of would-be Christmas shoppers stayed home Sunday, but one retail category did very well: snow removal.

David Sobieski waited by the snowblowers in an orange apron Sunday afternoon.

“Snowblowers are a reactive purchase,” he said. “We sell about a dozen in October. We’ll sell 30 today.”

Sobieski works at the Home Depot in Amsterdam. In the wake of Saturday night’s hefty snowfall, customers crowded into a section of parked snowblowers, shovels and pallets of salt at the front of the store. He talked lovingly about the various models as locals on the edge of desperation stomped snow out of boot treads and contemplated snow-removal budgets.

Zach Wurz knelt, examining the knobs and levers of a bright Deluxe 30 Ariens blower.

“Buy that machine and you’ll never buy another,” Sobieski said. “The Platinum 30 has hand warmers in the handles.”

Wurz considered the warmers, rubbing a hand through a dense beard.

“At some point you have to say, ‘I’m a man plowing out my driveway. It’s going to be cold,” he said.

According to Sobieski, the number of snowblowers, shovels and bags of salt sold on a given day is directly proportional to the number of inches of recent snowfall.

“Very few people think about this before the snow,” he said.

For Home Depot, he said, a good snowstorm is excellent for business. Before big storms, he said, the corporate warehouse sends truckloads of extra blowers and generators to regions predicted to get the heaviest accumulations. It’s one of the only times of the year when people don’t shop around or check online for better deals.

“Think about it,” he said. “If you have 20 inches of wet compacted snow at the end of your driveway, you’re just going to buy a blower as soon as you get out.”

The snowstorm was good for a few other business as well. Goldstock’s sporting goods store in Glenville had a nice boost in sales starting the moment meteorologists predicted deep snow.

“It’s not about the snow itself,” said snowboard sales manager Mike LeBlanc. “There’s been snow in the mountains for a while. It’s about reminding people.”

He and his sporting friends were skiing certain trails in November, but he said the average small-time skier doesn’t usually remember the winter gear in his garage rafters until after Christmas.

With snow on everyone’s mind, LeBlanc said, the store was flooded with customers shelling out for skis and gloves and all the things cold weather fun requires. But that was Saturday, before the snow. The place was pretty empty Sunday, he said, a problem faced by many other stores.

“We have considerably fewer customers than usual,” said Linda Ambrosino, owner of G. Willikers toy store in Saratoga Springs.

Ambrosino said her store is designed for families looking to interact over physical games rather than screens. As such, Christmas is their busiest time of the year — with Dec. 14 and 15 ranking as a pivotal shopping weekend.

In her 27 years in the business, Ambrosino has learned the relationship between weather and sales.

“A little snow is good for business,” she said, “It’s better than rain, but when you get a foot of snow, that’s really bad.”

She said her only customers Sunday were locals who walked from home. People who maybe planned a drive to Saratoga Springs canceled it, she said. While one of her potential best business weekends was ruined by snow, she expects to recoup the loss next weekend.

“I have to hope people didn’t just go online,” she said. “I still have time before Christmas. If this was next weekend I’d be in the back room crying right now.”

On such snowy weekends, Ambrosino said people often stick to the warmth and safety of home and buy their Christmas presents online.

Ambrosino couldn’t speak for other retailers in the city’s downtown, or across the area, but said the snowstorm did happen to fall on an very important shopping weekend. A store associate who would not give her name at the Rotterdam Square Hallmark store said the whole mall was slower than expected all day.

“It was pretty dead,” she said, “especially in the morning.”

A more popular mall had the opposite problem. So many people visited Colonie Center on Sunday that parking spaces lost to snow mountains became a nuisance to patrolling drivers. But no one reached in the mall management office or at a few of the larger stores wanted to comment for this story.

 
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