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Winter weather makes winners and losers of Charlotte businesses

By Ely Portillo, Andrew Dunn and Deon Roberts
elyportillo@charlotteobserver.com

Home improvement stores selling shovels and landscaping companies busting out their plows: Winners. Restaurants closed on busy days and airlines with thousands of canceled flights: Losers.

Some businesses benefited from the latest blast of winter weather to hit the Charlotte region, while others were hurt by the snow and ice that blanketed the region.

Economists agree that any lasting impact of the storm is likely to be evened out over the coming months.

“For the most part, the pure impacts from the weather tend to sort themselves out. They’re probably going to be relatively minor,” said Charlotte-based Wells Fargo economist Mark Vitner. But the short-term impacts are undeniable: Vitner himself was stuck in Las Vegas on Friday after his flight to Charlotte was canceled.

Rick Kaglic, Charlotte-based senior regional economist for the Federal Reserve Bank, said some sectors will lose sales, especially restaurants, retailers and entertainment venues who saw customers stay home. The region’s malls and many stores were closed much of Wednesday and Thursday. But, he said, in the long term, consumer spending won’t be impacted.

“People are crazy if they go out to eat in weather like this,” he said. But, “If you really need a car, you’re still going to go out and look at cars next week.”

Here’s a look at which businesses won and lost during the storm:

Home improvement stores: Winner

Blackhawk Hardware in Park Road Shopping Center sold out of most of its winter storm supplies, general manager Craig Anderson said. He got an extra shipment of hundreds of sleds and jugs of Ice Melt 6 a.m. Tuesday. When Blackhawk opened at 8 a.m., there was a line, Anderson said.

“I sold out of everything by 9 a.m.,” he said, including batteries, flashlights and snow shovels. The store was closed Thursday, but Anderson said that was just because they were out of storm supplies to sell.

Friday, the store was open again, and Anderson said he was ready for another rush of customers. “People are going to be stir-crazy,” he said.

Airlines: Loser

Airlines have already had a punishing winter, canceling thousands of flights in December and January because of the weather. And this week’s storm added to their troubles: One look at the hundreds of angry customers lined up for hours trying to rebook canceled flights out of Charlotte Douglas International Airport made that clear.

More than 2,600 flights were canceled Wednesday through Friday at Charlotte Douglas, about two-thirds of the airport’s average flights over three days. Most of those were operated by US Airways, a subsidiary of American Airlines. Charlotte is American’s second-busiest hub. American hubs in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and New York were also hammered.

Davien Anderson, a US Airways spokesman, said it’s too early to tally the storm’s total impact. Aviation analyst Michael Boyd estimated Friday on CNBC that the winter storms could cost U.S. airlines anywhere from $250 million to $500 million.

Any business with a plow: Winner

Charlotte-area landscaping companies accustomed to green grass and shrubs have found themselves inundated with calls for snow plowing and removal. For many of these companies, little-used plowing equipment is finally coming in handy.

Ben Whitehouse, who operates Whitehouse Lawns in Pineville, said he bought a plow five years ago to help secure a contract with medical centers in Charlotte.

“This is the second time I’ve used it,” he said Friday. “It did pay for itself with this storm, though.”

He and an employee hooked the plow up to the firm’s F-350 and have been working in shifts to keep businesses and hospitals drives clear. He said he’s gotten upwards of 50 calls from everyone from car dealerships to Red Lobster.

“I’ve gotten so many calls, if I would have had three plows we could have kept them busy the whole time,” Whitehouse said.

Restaurants that closed: Losers

Chris Auger, general manager for the Salsarita’s Fresh Cantina in uptown’s Latta Arcade, said the snow cost his restaurant business this week as companies, such as Bank of America, Duke Energy and Wells Fargo, canceled catering orders.

“It impacted us quite a lot,” he said. Auger said many catering orders have been pushed to next week.

The Salsarita’s closed before lunch Wednesday and was not open at all Thursday, which is typically the restaurant’s busiest day of the week, he said.

“We didn’t get to open for breakfast today, which kind of hurt us a little bit,” he said Friday.

Grocery stores: Winners

The stereotypical pre-snow bread-and-milk rush is real, grocery store executives said.

“Many Food Lion customers were stocking up on essentials to weather the storm, from bread, eggs, milk and water to household items such as batteries,” said Food Lion spokeswoman Christy Phillips-Brown, in an email. “Stores are also busy today as customers restock supplies after being home-bound for several days.”

Kaglic said supermarkets generally benefit from storms. “Grocery stores may see a little boost,” he said.

Jewelry stores before Valentine’s Day: Mixed

Perry’s at SouthPark re-opened Friday after two days and already had brisk business by mid-day.

With many office workers coming back to work, owner Ernest Perry said he hoped things would heat up even more by the evening with Valentine’s Day buyers. While he said he expected the winter storm would affect sales somewhat, he said it could have been a whole lot worse.

“Guys come in on Valentine’s Day as a rule of thumb anyhow,” Perry said. “Maybe their loved ones will give them a break and there will be Valentines celebrated all weekend.”

Hotels: Mixed

Many Charlotte hotels were booked with travelers who couldn’t leave this week. But Mohammad Jenatian, president of the Greater Charlotte Hospitality and Tourism Alliance, said many hotels were actually hurt as high-paying business travelers canceled trips to Charlotte.

“Although every now and then we like a good storm, this one over here was not the kind anybody benefited from,” he said.

“A lot of people are obviously stuck and are in the hotels, but actually with everybody anticipating what was going on with the storm, I think the hotel business suffered greatly this week because of a lack of corporate business,” he said.

“The last few days, nobody could even think of going to events,” Jenatian said.

Portillo: 704-358-5041; Twitter: @ESPortillo
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