White-out conditions mean retail blues in New England

BOSTON (AP) — New England is waist-deep in the white stuff and neck-deep in the red.

Historic snowfalls are costing state and local governments millions in plowing and other inclement weather expenses. They’re also exacting a heavy toll on the regional economy.

And that’s before yet another storm that could add a foot or more of snow in a region that’s already seen 6 feet or more in some areas by the end of the holiday weekend.

Here’s a look at how governments and businesses are coping:

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SNOW BUDGETS

Across the region, city and state governments say they’re on pace to exceed their budgets for clearing snow and ice — if they haven’t done so already.

Rhode Island’s Department of Transportation has exhausted its $14 million snow removal budget for the year. Boston says it’s nearly doubled its $18 million budget. And Connecticut towns have expended about half to two-thirds of their snow funds, according to the state Conference of Municipalities.

“What communities will do is plow first and figure out how to pay for it later because public safety is their top concern,” says Geoffrey Beckwith, executive director of the Massachusetts Municipal Association.

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WHAT’S THE DAMAGE?

Estimates vary, but one oft-cited study of the economic impact of snowstorms suggests a one-day stoppage costs, at least in Massachusetts, about $265 million.

That includes lost wages for workers and lost profits for companies on goods and services that likely won’t be recouped later, according to 2014 study by IHS Global Insight, a Massachusetts-based firm.

A one-day stoppage includes heavy snow days when people are urged to stay home. It also includes days when commuter and subway lines are shut down.

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RETAIL: A MIXED BAG

Retail stores have been among the most negatively impacted by the storms, with messy roads and traffic jams driving consumers away from malls and commercial centers.

But Rajiv Lal, a retailing expert at the Harvard Business School, said the picture among retailers is not all grim. Some retailers, like hardware and winter apparel stores, are enjoying brisk sales during what’s a normally quiet time of the year, thanks to snow-related purchases.

Lal warns, though, that people working for hourly wages at retail businesses are the most vulnerable when stores are forced to close or limit staff during storms. That, in turn, has ripple effects for the regional economy.

“If they don’t get to work, they don’t get paid,” he said. “And if they don’t get paid, then their consumption is seriously impacted, from basic necessities like groceries to fast food and things like that.”

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PRESIDENT’S DAY DEALS

Car dealerships were among the retailers hoping for a strong President’s Day weekend to help make up for an abysmal sales month for sales, but yet another storm could cause big problems for the holiday weekend.

“I’m set up for a big weekend, but it just really depends if people come out,” said Matt Davenport, a sales manager at Colonial Volkswagen, which was among a number of dealerships showcasing rows of gleaming vehicles and touting special deals along a packed stretch of Mystic Valley Parkway in Medford, Massachusetts, earlier this week. “The people that do come in, we’re going to sell them a car. You’re going to get a good deal if you come in a blizzard. My mindset, as a sales manager, is you’re not going to get another customer, so a deal is better than no deal.”

Robert Nakosteen, an economics professor at the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, suggests car dealers and certain other retailers shouldn’t fret: bad weather is simply delaying purchases customers will eventually have to make. “Car purchasers will probably come back,” he said. “Same with appliances, and clothing, for the most part.”

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VALENTINE’S DAY MEALS

Local restaurants have been trying everything to draw in customers during the snows, from touting bar snack promotions and three-course meal deals on their websites and social media.

On Twitter, a defiant hashtag even sprang up: #OpenInBOS, where downtown Boston food trucks to classic North End Italian eateries are telling customers they’re open and ready to serve.

In a bid to help retailers, Gov. Charlie Baker declared “Valentine’s Week” in Massachusetts and encouraged people to celebrate the holiday by buying gifts and dining out after the latest storm passes.

Still Bob Luz, president of the Massachusetts Restaurant Association, said the unrelenting succession of storms has had a “crippling effect” on the industry. Over the past three weeks, he estimates at least six days were essentially a total loss for the industry.

Those profits can’t be recovered, but Luz said restaurants were hoping to bounce back with a respectable Valentine’s Day weekend, despite the forecast.

“Restaurants are the cornerstones of neighborhoods,” he said. “We need our neighborhoods to come into the restaurants and support the workers, who are also their neighbors.”

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Associated Press writers Sue Haigh and Stephen Singer in Hartford, Connecticut, and Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed to this report.

Source Article from http://finance.yahoo.com/news/white-conditions-mean-retail-blues-161620108.html

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