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Winter business dips with lack of winter

March 2, 2012

Denny Phillips stands amongst his “plowing gear” in hopes the snowfall will pick up before spring arrives. (Photo by Dan Long/The Punxsutawney Spirit)

PUNXSUTAWNEY — Punxsy Phil’s prediction this year was right, as usual, except he should have made one small edit and removed the “more” from his “six more weeks of winter” prediction, since last week was one of the first weeks to feel like “real” winter.

Rumblings about global warming aside, this winter has been very unusual, and though the average citizen has enjoyed it, the average business has not.

All around town, businesses that have relied on winter to boost sales have suffered losses from the lack of snow. Sales for rock salt, snow shovels, winter tires, snowmobiles and snow plows have seen new lows for local businesses.

Local snow plowing companies are some of the businesses that have suffered most.

“I’ve suffered a lot; I’m probably down 50 percent, at least,” said Denny Phillips, who runs a one-man snow plow operation.

Phillips plows for different businesses and driveways all across Punxsutawney, and since he is paid on a per-client basis, the income from his snow plowing operation has been way down.

When asked how he compensates for the lack of business this winter, Phillips responded, “There’s nothing you can do. If I could make it snow, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Phillips has been in the snow plowing business for 37 years, and this is the first time he has ever gone through November and December without having to plow anywhere.

He said he runs the business by himself, and therefore, he is somewhat limited with how he can alter his business to compensate for this winter’s bizarre weather. He doesn’t have the luxury of taking on more clients or cutting employee hours to make up for lost wages.

“There’s only so many hours in the day,” he said. “You can take more on, but you have to be able take care of what you have. You get spread out too much, and you can’t take care of what you have.”

On a particularly bad day, Phillips will get up at 2 a.m., and it will take him all day to plow for his 20-some clients.

In addition to his snow plowing business, Phillip’s Speed & Sport Cycle Center has suffered as well. Sales for snowmobiles, ATV plows, and ATV/snowmobile parts have all dropped.

“There’s no snow, they’re not riding, they’re not breaking anything to buy parts and stuff; it has a big trickle-down effect when you don’t have the weather you’re supposed to,” he said.

Local grocery stores have been hit by the odd winter, as well. County Market, which sells rock salt and snow shovels, has seen decreases in the sales for those items, as well as a slight decrease in overall grocery sales.

“Usually, when people hear it’s going to snow, they come in a lot more,” said Ron Infantino, front end manager at County Market.

Without the traditional snow storms, Punxsy shoppers’ buying habits have been forced to change. Since the roads have not been affected much this winter, shoppers haven’t felt the need to stock up on food and other supplies.

The suitable driving conditions have also had an effect on the tire business. HPS Tire & Auto has seen a 20-percent decrease in sales as opposed to last year.

Even with winter beginning to pick up, many buyers have decided to skip buying new snow tires this year.

“A lot of folks figure, ‘Well, there can’t be that much more winter, we got this far, we’re just going to try to get through a little bit further,” owner Brian Horner said.

In order to compensate with the lower sales this year, HPS tire has cut back hours in the evening and Saturday.

“There was not enough cash flow to support the payroll we’re carrying,” Horner said.

In the future, Horner plans to “run lean” if next year’s winter has a similar weather pattern.

Local business owners are hoping that next year’s winter returns to it’s normal tendencies.

“Hopefully, next winter starts about Thanksgiving and runs through the end of March, and things will be good,” Phillips said.

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