Business

Snow preparation sales balanced out the snow slowdown for some Whatcom businesses

Snow and ice made it difficult for Whatcom County businesses to stay open last week. Bellingham Fringe Boutique owner Rhiannon Troutman decided to keep her store on North State Street open, but gave her employees the week off.
Snow and ice made it difficult for Whatcom County businesses to stay open last week. Bellingham Fringe Boutique owner Rhiannon Troutman decided to keep her store on North State Street open, but gave her employees the week off. The Bellingham Herald

During this past snowmageddon, many Whatcom County store owners were juggling tough decisions.

Can they stay open? If so, would they have enough employees? And was it worth it to keep the doors open? Will deliveries arrive? Are the pipes frozen?

It was a worrisome week made more difficult by the fact it was hard to tell when the weather would return to normal in the Whatcom lowlands.

Social media posts by businesses last week show many different strategies in dealing with the weather. Some businesses shut down most of the week, others opened later (or closed early, if another storm was coming), while a few decided to stick to regular hours.

Rhiannon Troutman, who operates the Bellingham clothing store Fringe Boutique, decided to stay open but gave her employees much of the week off. She said in an interview that she already had plenty of other tasks at the store, such as ordering inventory, to keep her busy if customers were unable to drop by the store.

Sales were slow at Fringe, particularly at the beginning of last week when new snow and ice arrived. Business was picking up late in the week as Troutman began seeing more people who live downtown and wanted to get out of the house.

One interesting trend she noticed was a major slowdown in sales before the storms hit.

“I think a lot of people were afraid of what might happen, so they took the time to prepare,” Troutman said.

Troutman doesn’t expect last week’s lost sales to be made up once the snow is gone, and she’s not alone. The businesses that have “experienced-based transactions” like movies, dinners or non-essential goods will most likely take a sales hit as a result of the storms, said James McCafferty in an email. McCafferty is the co-director at the Center for Economic and Business Research at Western Washington University.

“Few people are going to say ‘I was going to see a movie last week so this week I will see two,’ or ‘I’ll have two pizzas please, I missed one last week,’” McCafferty said.

Others that will see impacts include businesses that rely heavily on appointments, like dentists and doctors.

“They don’t have the ability to accommodate a surge next week to make up for it,” said Hart Hodges, who is also a director at the business research center, in an email. “They will reschedule appointments that were canceled... but they will put those patients into what are billable slots.”

Other retailers will be able to recoup some lost sales once people can easily get around town again. People will need to restock on groceries, for example, or get that oil change they meant to get last week, McCafferty said. For those who found themselves in a grocery store prior to the snow arriving also know, there was a pre-Thanksgiving style surge, providing plenty of sales to balance out the snow slowdown.

Dave Gallagher has covered the Whatcom County business community since 1998. Retail, real estate, jobs and port redevelopment are among the topics he covers.
  Comments