December 20, 2013

Ice storm could chill central Maine last-minute shopping

Shoppers, retailers face wintry weather the weekend before Christmas.

By Susan McMillan
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — The holiday shopping season was going to be a short one from the start, given the lateness of Thanksgiving.

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AHEAD OF THE ICE: Jay Lewis discusses the merits of a jacket Friday with his wife, Tracy, at Renys in Gardiner. The couple made a hasty holiday shopping trip in the morning, before having snow tires put on their car in the afternoon in anticipation of an ice storm forecast for this weekend.

Staff photo by Andy Molloy

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Then came a December that has been unusually cold and snowy in Maine, including the storm last weekend that dropped about a foot of snow and left retailers hoping to regain some ground in the last remaining weekend before Christmas.

Now the weekend is here, and so is a winter storm. Prospective shoppers will have to brave wet, dreary cold at best and an ice storm on Sunday at worst.

“It’s as if central casting said, ‘OK, what’s the worst possible thing that can happen the weekend before Christmas?’ ” said Stacy Gervais, manager of Stacy’s Hallmark on Water Street in downtown Augusta.

Gervais said the store will be open on Sunday no matter what. If it’s not safe for employees to come in, she and her father will work.

Tom Langlois, manager of the Waterville Marden’s, said that of course people won’t travel if the weather’s bad, but he’s not worrying.

“Whatever happens, happens,” he said.

On Saturday, there will be rain showers throughout the day, with temperatures in the mid-30s. As temperatures drop overnight, it will change to freezing rain, which is expected to last through Sunday.

Mike Kistner, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, said a half-inch or more of ice will accumulate in the Augusta area, enough to bring down trees and power lines.

There should also be significant ice in northern Kennebec and southern Somerset counties. North of Skowhegan, sleet and snow will be mixed in with the freezing rain, reducing ice accumulation.

Where it’s cold enough, the precipitation could become a foot or more of snow, Kistner said.

Some stores had increased traffic on Friday as people tried to fit in shopping before the storm.

Jay and Tracy Lewis of Chelsea went to the Renys in Gardiner for a few last gifts before getting snow tires put on their car.

“We just knew that this weekend is going to be nasty,” Jay Lewis said. “We didn’t want to be out in that.”

Store manager Dennis Trimpop said people were coming into Renys on Friday both for stocking stuffers and for ice cleats and ice scrapers.

Trimpop said it’s been a good holiday season for the store, and he doesn’t expect the storm to affect their overall sales.

“Even though the storms are hitting at kind of a bad time of year, they’re working around it by shopping the day before the storm or coming in the day after when it’s cleared up,” Trimpop said.

Many locally owned stores won’t miss business on Sunday because they’d be closed anyway. Depending on the severity of the ice storm, however, shopping could still be difficult on Monday and Tuesday.

At the Renys in Madison, manager Dean Olmsted doesn’t expect too much of an impact from bad weather. Most employees live within walking distance, and he said local residents may decide to shop closer to home instead of driving to a faraway mall.

“It is crunch time, and there’s folks that’ve got to get stuff done,” Olmsted said. “(Sunday) might be their day off and their last day before Christmas.”

The Augusta Marketplace was busy on Friday afternoon.

Renee Smith, a Bangor resident on her way home from visiting her sister in Bath, stopped at Walmart, American Eagle and Bath and Body Works.

Smith said she’s normally finished with her Christmas shopping by now, but the late Thanksgiving put her behind schedule. She was unfazed by the weekend forecast.

“I’ll still be out,” she said. “I’ve got to get it done, and I’m running out of time.”

Susan McMillan — 621-5645smcmillan@centralmaine.comTwitter: @s_e_mcmillan
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