The Big Chill
"I believe we've done more work this year than the past two years combined," says Ian Hammond.
From the March, 2014 issue
Hammond and partner Paul Ellerholz of Midwest Outdoor Service plowed and shoveled seven days a week during the harsh midwinter weather. January alone recorded more than three feet of snow--the official total was 37.8 inches--setting an all-time record for the month, says U-M meteorologist Dennis Kahlbaum. And it kept piling up: the temperature stayed below freezing nearly all month.
People who didn't have to go out, didn't. "We had one day in December where sales were about half what they should have been," says bookstore owner Nicola Rooney. She doesn't expect to make it up--"lost sales are lost sales forever," she says--but she understands. On the worst days, she called her own employees who lived far away and told them, "I don't want you on the road."
Main Street Area Association Director Maura Thomson says members told her the bitter weather was the "greatest challenge they've seen in years." Restaurants had it particularly tough, she says, because they staffed for customers who didn't show. Beauty salons and barbershops also lost out. On a very messy day in February, one downtown stylist had five clients cancel.
But not every business suffered. "January and February are very slow months for us regardless of weather," says Mark Hodesh of Downtown Home and Garden. This year, though, his sales actually went up in January, thanks to a run on shovels and birdseed--"people feel more sorry for birds in cold weather," Hodesh says. And Stadium Hardware, says co-owner Skip Hackbarth, was "extremely busy ... We've sold, between January and February, 2,700 fifty-pound bags of salt. We can go through a mild winter without selling a couple hundred."
AAA Michigan spokesperson Nancy Cain says the insurer helped "nearly twice the number of motorists" this January compared to last. And as cars slid into each other on icy roads, body shops were scrambling. "It's been huge. It's almost overwhelming," says Alan Hukkala, manager at Whitney's Collision. "These storms hit back to back and at bad
times --when you drive home or in [to work]. We've seen quite a few [cars] that were unrepairable."
With so many accidents, "even your parts are harder to get," says Hukkala. "All the dealers are currently out" of replacement parts. That's left some people waiting as much as a month to get their cars back.
But no one was busier than the snow removal companies "If we're not plowing, we're salting. If we're not salting, we're moving piles [of snow] with a loader," Hammond says. Coffee, energy drinks, and his dog, Axl, who travels with him, helped him get him through some twenty-four-hour days in the truck.
Though salt doesn't help when the temperature nears zero, he put it down anyway for customers who demanded it. "If you don't do it, they think you're just being lazy," he says. The snow and cold finally eased up a little in mid-February--allowing Hammond to take his first day off in two months.
[Originally published in March, 2014.]