Winter weather winners

When Robin Rowback first acquired the Beacon Wearhouse in April, she had no idea her new business was about to do the best business its done in nearly a decade.

Prior to purchasing the store, Rowback had been the bookkeeper for Beacon Wearhouse for the last eight years. The store specializes in winter clothing and she said the harsh winter weather has helped spike sales.

“Sales are probably up over 30 percent from last year at this time,” she said. “People are sick of the cold by now, but they keep coming in. They buy the lined Carhartt pants, the thermal sweatshirts -there’s a couple of my suppliers that I’ve maxed out my orders with. I’ve ordered the heavy thick merino wool socks three times this season.”

The harsh winter has been rough for some businesses, but for a lucky few, the frigid weather means more cold, hard cash. Only 32 winters have been colder in the last 119 years, according to Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the National Climatic Data Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.

Ace Hardware is having its best winter in more than a decade for snow blower and shovel sales. Sales of shovels and snow blowers have doubled at Oak Brook, Ill.-based Ace Hardware. The company is also shipping salt and other ice melters to southern regions such as Atlanta, which rarely have to deal with severe weather. Total sales are up 20 percent so far this year compared with a year ago.

“The concept of a polar vortex doesn’t feel good, but it’s good for business,” said Kane Calamari, a vice president at Ace Hardware Corp.

A snowy winter can also be a boon to companies that do snow removal. Michael Lysiak, the owner of Lysiak Enterprise Landscape located on Route 29 in Johnstown, said his business contracts with clients to do landscaping in the warmer months and snow removal during winter. He said the snow removal portion of his business has benefitted this year from increased snowfall.

“Our numbers are up, mainly because of salting frequency and the cold. A lot of the daytime snows affected us in that aspect,” he said. “For some of our small parking lot clients we’ve had to do some pushing back of snowbanks and snow removal. That adds to our bottom line.”

Lysiak said his business model doesn’t count on cold snowy winters, but when they happen it helps.

“I do a lot of season contracts, so I get paid a fixed price, regardless of how much snow we have or how little, but I also have some clients that are per-service. So those per service accounts are hurting some businesses this season, but it’s good for us. We’re up on those. I would say we’re probably up 10 percent over a five-year average and we’re probably up 20 percent over a three-year average because we had two mild winters prior.”

Snowfall can lead to more work for autobody repair shops like Dal’s Hollow Body Works in Johnstown, owned by Ray Dalmata. Dalmata said over the past two months he’s seen an uptick in collision repair work due to the icy roads and from snow falling on parked cars.

“Ice falls off high roofs, hits a car. Then there are these real quick snowfalls that hit in the middle of the day and people have to drive home in it, we usually benefit from those, but not the big snow storms. People usually stay home during those,” he said.

The difficult winter has led to increased demand for winter apparel and winter sporting goods.

L.L. Bean can’t make its rubber and leather boots fast enough. The boots, known as Bean Boots, are made by hand in Freeport, Maine. The company hired 40 new workers, but it will take them at least six months to be fully trained.

“We’re making them as fast as we can,” said L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem. “You can’t just increase production overnight.”

Andy Heck, the president and owner of outdoor recreation retailer Alpin Haus in Amsterdam, said this winter season has been one of the best his business has had over the past 10 years.

“Overall, it’s been a total dream for us having a true winter like this,” Heck said. “We’ve had a couple of off winters recently, so there was an anticipation by the avid skiers and snowboarders that there would be a good winter soon. What we’re seeing now over the past six weeks is the tailwind of this long winter, which seems to have been going on since Thanksgiving. We’re seeing people who haven’t been into skiing for years now coming back and getting into it again.”

Heck said sales of skiing supplies tend to be fairly steady during cold or mild winters, because of the availability of artificial snow, but snowmobile purchases spike when there is greater snowfall because the vehicles require a snow covered landscape.

He said one unexpected benefit of this winter season has been an uptick in shoppers preparing for the spring and summer months.

“Our summer products, RVs and boats, this is has been one of the best winters for those in years and years and years. People are so sick of winter, they are buying summer stuff early.”

The Associated Press contributed to this story.