December 15, 2013

Heavy snowfall, strong winds keep shoppers from central Maine downtowns

Many businesses opted to keep their doors closed on Sunday, and the ones who opened saw few customers.

By Paul Koenig pkoenig@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Few holiday shoppers ventured into the capital area downtown on Sunday, which saw heavy snowfall into mid-morning and over 20 mph gusts blowing snow and freezing rain.

Many businesses that are usually open kept their doors closed, and the several that stayed open reported few shoppers. The slow day, however, allowed employees and business owners to catch up on other tasks for what they hope is a busy last full week and weekend before Christmas.

“Generally, when you lose a day of sales this time of year, you don’t get it back,” Barry Bolduc, diamontologist and general manager at The Village Jeweler in Gardiner, said while working Sunday afternoon. “But we live in Maine where we go with the flow with what mother nature gives us.”

Bolduc said he hates to lose the business at the jewelry store, the only downtown Gardiner retailer open Sunday afternoon other than Renys, but the lack of customers allowed him to get caught up and be in better shape going into the week. He still expected a plow-truck driver to stop in to shop later in the day on Sunday with cash from recent jobs.

“I’d rather have it now than next weekend,” Bolduc said. “Next weekend would really hurt financially.”

The National Retail Federation said retailers were expecting a busy shopping weekend due to a late Thanksgiving creating a shorter holiday shopping season. Survey results released last week from the retail association found fewer people had finished their shopping by the same time last year.

Kathy Grannis, a spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, said consumers would likely take their shopping online because of the snowstorm. She said the weekend before Christmas will give retailers and shoppers another chance.

“If a big storm hits around the 21st, 22nd, it will be a completely different story,” Grannis said.

Maine-specific sales figures aren’t available yet, but holiday shopping is usually a major portion of most retailers’ overall sales, sometimes totaling at least 40 percent of their annual sales.

In downtown Augusta, Stacy Gervais, manager of Stacy’s Hallmark, said the holiday shopping season has been slow this year, likely because of the shorter season and another specialty gift shop that recently opened in the Augusta Marketplace, she said.

Gervais, however, said customers tend to shop at the big-box retailers earlier in the shopping season before hitting small businesses downtown for more personal presents.

“It’s at the end, usually. The smaller stores are where they buy the really meaningful gifts, the ones that are personal, that feel like the holidays, like Christmas,” Gervais said.

One benefit of the snow is it reminds some people that the holidays are coming up, Gervais said. When it’s beautiful outside, she said, sometimes people won’t go shopping.

At another Augusta downtown retailer, Cosmic Charlie’s, only one shopper was browsing Sunday morning.

“Usually we’re really busy, especially this time of year,” Josh Watson, a store associate, said. December is usually the store’s best month, Watson said, but this year has been slower than others.

D.J. Hardy, assistant manager at the store, also worked Sunday and said he’s sure there will be a lot of last-minute shoppers.

“I’m a last-minute shopper myself,” he said.

No downtown Hallowell retailers were open at around 2 p.m. on Sunday. Scrummy Afters Candy Shoppe in Hallowell announced on its Facebook page it would be staying closed because of the weather.

Not all businesses suffered as a result of the snowstorm. As Bolduc pointed out, businesses such as snowmobile shops and ski resorts likely saw a bump in interest or sales this weekend.

Ethan Austin, spokesman for the Sugarloaf Ski Resort in Carrabassett Valley, told the Associated Press the resort has been watching the forecast since people started talking about it early last week.

“We’re pretty psyched,” he said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Paul Koenig — 207-621-5663 pkoenig@centralmaine.com Twitter: @paul_koenig
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