January 15, 2009 in Washington Voices

Snow deterred customers

Succession of storms caused holiday sales to slide
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Pia Hallenberg photo

Stores on West Garland Avenue have been surrounded by snow berms.
(Full-size photo)(All photos)

Spokane went from winter wonderland to wet dog smell in just a few days.

The big snowstorms left behind miles and miles of crusty berms and piles of ashen snow. Sidewalks and parking lots turned to skating rinks, covered in standing water, and errands that used to take a half hour, took all morning.

While city and county plows worked around the clock, neighborhood business owners got their shovels and snowblowers out, battling to clear sidewalks and parking lots.

And many customers stayed home during what’s usually the busiest shopping season.

“It’s the first year since I’ve been in business that sales has dropped to where it was when I began,” said Jan Richart, who has owned The Vintage Rabbit Antique Mall on North Monroe for almost 15 years. “For a couple of weeks the berms were taller than our windows.”

Richart said many of her shoppers are elderly and can’t walk in the snow.

“It’s hard when there’s no parking,” Richart said.

She paid to have the parking spots in front of her business cleared – only to find people frequenting other shops and offices parked there.

“You can’t really do anything about that,” Richart said. “I just don’t want people to think we are closed – because we aren’t, even if it can be hard to see the store.”

Farther south on Monroe, Chris Matthews and his wife, Jana, moved Jana’s Antiques into a new storefront on Dec. 8, looking forward to a lucrative holiday season.

“Business was fine until the snow hit,” said Matthews, whose street parking spots were covered by a huge snow berm. “I’ve just been chopping away at it, I mean, unless you live in Tahoe, how can you be expected to keep up with something like this?”

Some business districts rallied their resources to deal with the snow.

“After that first big snow, the business district got together and hired someone with a tractor to clear it out,” said Armand Jalayeri, who owns Roots, a beauty salon and spa on South Perry Street. “It’s a really cool community here. Every one pitched in and everyone showed up.”

Jalayeri said keeping the street parking clear has been a tough job, not to mention having to clear the parking lot behind his building.

“We had the roof shoveled off – and that created a huge mess in the back,” Jalayeri said, with a shrug. He’s only been in business for three months at the South Perry location – where he’s completely remodeled the building Roots is located in – but customers still show up, he said.

“We’ll get through it fine,” Jalayeri said. “I think we found a good neighborhood to locate in.”

Just down the street, The Shop coffeehouse managed to stay open through the storms.

“People need coffee or they go crazy,” said Shop owner Wyatt Palmateer. “It hurts us a bit that we don’t have a drive-through when the weather gets really bad. And when school is closed, the parents don’t come in as often as they used to.”

To balance that out, snow-covered streets means more foot traffic, Palmateer said.

“And we’ve kept the parking lot clear, so that helps, too,” he added.

On West Garland, an area that’s usually bustling with shoppers, moviegoers and diners, the loss of street parking to snow berms really hurt.

“That has been the biggest problem,” said Mallory Schuyler, book manager at The Tinman Gallery. “People don’t know if they are allowed to park in the other lots, and it’s just hard to get access to the sidewalk.”

Like all other smaller businesses, The Tinman Gallery and the Ruby Slipper – both owned by Sue Bradley – had low holiday sales.

“We basically haven’t had a Christmas season,” Schuyler said. “We had one sale yesterday. And usually, we wouldn’t be able to do inventory during opening hours as we do now.”

Some people did brave the elements to hit the Garland shops.

“People call to make sure we are open,” said Schuyler. “We have a very committed group of customers and when the weather is like this, you really appreciate that.”

At the end of last week, when temperatures rebounded and the snow turned to slushy rivers of melting water, things began to look up.

“I’m telling you the melt was amazing,” said Sue Bergman, owner of B & B Junk Co. in Hillyard. “In the course of one day, the berms shrunk to half the size almost and the lanes widened so people could actually drive again.” Bergman said Hillyard businesses owners shoveled and plowed the best they could, and they tried to keep openings in the berms clear so pedestrians could get to and from street parking.

“With the snowstorms, I think our biggest problem was that people simply didn’t get out,” Bergman said about her dwindling shopping crowd. “And I don’t blame them. It was just nasty out there. Now, when it’s cleared a bit, I think folks are a little stir-crazy, I think they want to get out.”

Reach Pia Hallenberg Christensen at 459-5427 or piah@spokesman.com


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