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Business owners feel storms sting
Employees feel effects of wintry weather too
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Ali Ladha shovels snow Tuesday off the entrance to his business, E Z Buy BP, on Athens Highway. Ladha lost business Monday and most of Tuesday because of the snowstorm. - photo by Tom Reed

Tracking consumer spending

How sales and consumption from last week in the greater Atlanta metro area compared to the same time last year:

Retail store traffic: Down 9 percent
Restaurant traffic: Down 5 percent
Auto batteries sales: Up 11 percent
Wiper blades sales: Up 5 percent
Soup sales: Up 63 percent
Boots sales: Up 22 percent
Energy consumption: Up 8 percent
Snow removal sales: Up 200 percent
Winterwear sales: Up 200 percent
Source: Planalytics

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We may never know the true cost of the storm

The storm that pounded Georgia this week all but froze business operations under a thin sheet of ice.

Shipments stopped. Snowed-in employees didn't make it to work. And many owners who did turn on the lights found themselves holding onto cash with few banks taking deposits.

Business owners say they still are measuring their losses from the lost week. But there is one thing they can say with complete certainty: Closing down for a few days hurts.

"I'm behind $10,000," said Ali Ladha, owner of the E Z Buy BP on Athens Highway, which was closed on Monday and operated for a shortened six-hour day Tuesday.
"I can pray," but making up those losses seems unlikely, Ladha said.

But that's exactly what many retailers are counting on.
David Frieberg, vice president of marketing for Planalytics, a company that measures the economic impact of weather, said delayed demand should compensate for some lost sales.

"Those sales or that demand is delayed or shifted out, either shifted prior to the storm, so people run out to buy bread and soup and milk and snow shovels and ice melt," he said. "And then there is that pent-up demand once everything is cleared away and you can get out of the house in a couple of days."

Stores that sell weather-related items, like hardware stores, will see the smallest losses, with those that depend on foot traffic, like jewelry or gift shops, on the other end of the spectrum, he said.

If there's a silver lining in a heavy blanket of white snow, it's that it didn't come a few weeks ago.

"It impacts every business differently, but I think all of those small business owners ... are probably really appreciative that this didn't happen in the weeks before Christmas," said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development for the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce.

"Because it's much more difficult to make up those sales just prior to Christmas than for those consumer and retailers to make up lost sales after Christmas."

The fact that this is a long holiday weekend doesn't hurt either, Frieberg said, and should lessen the overall impact of this storm.

"From a timing perspective it hurts, but it could hurt more," he said.

Some businesses staved off massive losses with resourceful transportation plans, picking up employees and shuttling them to and from work.

Evans said many of the local manufacturing plants were able continue operations that way, and that few saw major slow downs in production.

At JCPenny, store manager Paul Shires said closing the store Monday and Tuesday resulted in a 50-60 percent profit loss. While open for limited hours Wednesday and Thursday, foot traffic was still low.

While the national retailer can weather a few bad days, the employees have a harder time, Shires said. He's tried to help many make up for lost income by adding hours or using vacation and sick time.

Snow-related shutdowns hurt hourly workers more than any other economic class and amount for almost two-thirds of direct economic losses to businesses and governments caused by snowstorms, according to a study commissioned by the American Highway Users Alliance.

Annie Mitchell lost two days of work when her street iced over. She tried calling a taxi but they couldn't get out to her.

No money was coming in, she said. But the power bill and the rent still needed to be paid.

"It makes a difference, two days, in this day and age," she said.

At Poor Richards restaurant, three days being closed came with a $12,000 price tag, owner Richard LeCain said.

"We did have food that we had to throw out today," LeCain said on Thursday, his first day to reopen. "It wasn't spoiled but I wouldn't serve it."

While he hoped to recoup some sales this weekend, he wasn't optimistic.

"When you lose a sale," he said, "it never comes back."
In other industries, lost time can by made up, but it's a slow process.

At Northeast Georgia Medical Center, more than 80 surgeries and 45 endoscopies were canceled last week, according to Melissa Tymchuk, hospital spokeswoman. She expects most of those surgeries to be rescheduled for this week.

At The Longstreet Clinic, it may take the rest of the month to make up a backlog of about 4,000 appointments that were missed when offices closed Monday, Tuesday and part of Wednesday, said Loren Funk, TLC's chief operating officer.

"That's a lot to make up for," he said. "Many of the physicians are looking at working on their days off (and) adding other days to be able to get all of those appointments in."

There are, of course, those who benefited from the storm that paralyzed others in Northeast Georgia.

Mark Sanders, owner of U.S. Lawns, estimated Wednesday that his company had made $40,000 spreading salt and up to $20,000 plowing.

"I've worked 32 hours with three hours of sleep," an exhausted Sanders said Wednesday.

His crew of 12 cleared parking lots, sidewalks and driveways for about 90 clients including Regent Banks, Wells Fargo, BB&T and The Norton Agency.

When Zach Thompson, vice president Pro Touch Landscapes, got to the office Tuesday, he had about 35 messages on the machine from people begging him to dig them out. His company isn't equipped for that kind of work. But he got resourceful, turning fertilizer carts into salt spreaders and a grading blade into a snow plow.

"The sun is our enemy," he said on Wednesday as he headed to another job. "... Everyone is hoping that the snow melts. Except for me."

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