Snow business

Weather dampens winter sales

Mitch Swanger restocks the shelves with new shovels at Lowe’s on Thursday evening in anticipation of a snowy weekend. Mirror photo by Gary M. Baranec

A lack of snowfall in the Altoona area is causing headaches for many local businesses.

“It has been horrible for us. We are just a tire shop, we strictly do tires,” said Julie Douglass, assistant to the general manager at R Tire Shop, Altoona.

“We are down about 200 tires from last year at this time. It has had a drastic impact on us,” Douglass said. “Tires are the last thing people worry about any more, the last priority on people’s list.”

A winter storm predicted for this weekend is expected to dump several inches of snow over parts of North Carolina and Virginia, but not have much impact locally.

“We won’t see much of anything this weekend. Most of the storms are staying south of us in Virginia and Maryland. We could get one big system sometime in February,” AccuWeather meteorologist Paul Pastelok said.

Ironically, snowfall in the Altoona area — measured at the Altoona-Blair County Airport — is actually above normal for this time of the winter season thanks to more than 8 inches that fell Nov. 15.

“We are now at 11.3 inches of snow, normal to date is 10.1. The one big spike did it,” Pastelok said.

The lack of natural snow is creating problems for area ski resorts.

“We are skiing,”said Scott Bender, adviser to the ownership group at Blue Knob Four Seasons Resort. “We have four out of 30 slopes open and two chairlifts running. The lack of snow doesn’t encourage people to come up and ski. We didn’t have the crowds we typically have at Christmas or this time of year,” Bender said.

“This also affects the employees. We can’t give them the hours that they need,” he added.

Blue Knob was in the process of major renovations to its snowmaking equipment and couldn’t open for the snowfall in November.

The lack of snowfall has also hurt business at the Tussey Mountain Ski Area near Boalsburg.

“The biggest thing is the tube park has not been open. That has affected us the most,” spokesman Aaron Weyman said.

“We have been able to get some of our trails open but not as many as we would like. That can affect repeat business. … People don’t want to ride the same trails all the time, they want more terrain,” Weyman said.

Despite the lack of natural snow, “We have been able to conduct some of our programs,” Weyman said. “We’ve been doing a lot of lessons; that has been strong.”

Hardware stores that sell snow removal products have also been feeling the pinch from the lack of snow and winter weather.

“It has been difficult. We have had a real lack of any winter weather,” said Tom Irwin, general manager at Fiore True Value Hardware, Altoona.

“The cold creates as much business as snow does. It has not been good at all,” he said, adding that “The one day we had a snowfall, a lot of snow blowers wouldn’t start so we did see an influx of repairs.”

Hardware stores have been selling other products, though, as homeowners are dealing with issues related to rain.

The weather has slowed salt sales and shovel sales, said David Mallow, owner of Mallow’s Hardware, Altoona.

“With the snowless winter, we are still getting rain. People are dealing with mold in a lot of the older homes in the Altoona area; moisture in their basements hasn’t dried up,” he said.

“We are selling a lot of corrugated and perforated pipes. Sump pump sales are unbelievable,” Mallow added.

“The hardest things to sell have been salt and ice melt products,” said Doug Mingle, owner of Roaring Spring True Value.

“We have sleds, ice melt and salt sitting around. Some years you can’t get enough,” he lamented. But he added that cold weather products have been selling well. “Gloves, heaters, wood pellets are steady,” he said.

Landscapers who rely on snow removal for income over the winter months are suffering.

“Usually we are geared up to plow snow,” said Rich Huber, owner of ProLawn Landscaping Co., Altoona.

“It is a little concerning when it is not snowing and there is none in the forecast,” Huber said. “It is still early. … If you call me a month from now you would get a different answer. Another month like this would hurt our bottom line,” he said.

Huber said that mid-December to mid-March encompasses a significant part of the business and can usually be counted on for a good influx of income.

“We have been able to do some hardscaping projects we didn’t get done, but everything is so muddy,” he said. “The rain is making it difficult for getting things done.”

Not everyone has been hurt by the lack of snow.

“We don’t rely on snow removal. We offer many other services,” said Joe Beck, owner of Beck’s Maintenance and Landscape Center, Duncansville.

“If you have what it takes to do business legitimately, this kind of season is beneficial to you,” he said. “Snow removal is nice money. When it snows, we do the plowing for UPMC Altoona and Blair Medical.”

Despite having hundreds of snow accounts, Beck said without snow, the business is busy doing other things.

“The winter has benefited us to get to a lot of projects,” Beck said, but added that the season has been “one of the most difficult in my 26 years to decipher what we are doing from day to day.”

But, the lack of snow is not hurting business at Russell Tire Co., Altoona.

“It really hasn’t hurt us at all,” owner John Russell said.

“I had the best fourth quarter in 2018 in a long time, since the recession. I typically sell most of my tires in the fourth quarter. Things have been busy, I can’t complain about not having snow,” Russell said.

Mirror Staff Writer Walt Frank is at 946-7467.