As snow -- and plenty of it -- covered the Northeast last week, retailers reported brisk business. Sales were slightly offset by diminished mobility, reduced hours and depleted stock.
The storm that dropped nearly a foot of snow in some Midwest cities intensified upon its eastward arrival on Jan. 22, with some parts of Massachusetts reporting an accumulation of 38 inches. This first major snowstorm of the season hit Philadelphia with 11 inches; New York City, 14 inches; northern New Jersey, 21 inches; and Long Island, 22 inches. Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Maine saw accumulations of around two feet or more, with Cape Cod getting around three feet.
Retailers told SN that an accurate weather forecast and fortunate timing -- snow started falling on Saturday afternoon in most areas -- allowed shoppers plenty of time to stock up. Store managers were able to adjust work schedules and deliveries in anticipation of the event. In addition, they noted that pro football teams representing the storm's geographical bookends -- Philadelphia and New England -- each played conference championship games on Sunday. This coincidence provided an extra boost to a busy shopping weekend.
"On both Friday and Saturday, the stores were a mob scene," said Paul McGillivray, vice president of perishables for Roche Bros. Supermarkets, Wellesley Hills, Mass. "People were buying a lot of everything, but they were definitely piling up on all kinds of game-day stuff."
By late Saturday, rapid snow accumulations forced Springfield, Mass.-based Big Y Supermarkets, which operates 53 stores in Massachusetts and Connecticut, to close many of its units at 10 p.m., vs. midnight, and open at 10 a.m., vs. 7 a.m. on Sunday, said Claire D'Amour-Daley, Big Y spokeswoman. She added that one Big Y manager spent the night in a store ("I'm told he found the dog bed pretty comfortable," she said with a laugh).
"We felt [changing the hours] would be safer for our employees, and also allow time for plows to clean the parking lots," D'Amour-Daley said. She added that stores shifted employee hours in anticipation, adding extra staff Friday and Saturday.
"Retailers are telling me that between Friday night and Saturday afternoon, they did unbelievable sales, and that, combined with the Patriots keeping on their winning ways, has been good news for them," Chris Flynn, president, Massachusetts Food Association, Boston, told SN. He said stores around Boston experienced accompanying slow sales Sunday, when area residents were encouraged to stay home as roads were cleared.
Further south, Pathmark stores "did very brisk business Friday and through noon on Saturday," Pathmark spokesman Rich Savner told SN. Around 10 stores in hard-hit areas were closed early on Saturday, but all stores were operating normally again by Sunday, he said.
"No surprises -- soups, milk and bread categories, hot chocolate and teas did well. When you're running a good sales program, those items are well picked through," Savner said.
He noted that consumers were alerted as early as Tuesday as to the possibility of a large weekend snowfall and behaved accordingly.
"I don't think people in New York and New Jersey are particularly overwhelmed when they hear four to six inches anymore. But when people start to hear 10 to 15 inches in the forecast, they get concerned about having their mobility restricted and start to rush the stores," he said. "This turned out to be one of those cases where the forecasters predicted the storm almost to a 'T."'
Morton Williams Associated Supermarkets, New York, experienced a "typical bad weather shopping pattern," said John Riley, buyer for the 10-store chain. "There wasn't really anything unusual compared with storms in the past. We had an initial burst of business. People get snow-scared. They think they're going to be snowed in, so they come in and wipe you out -- starting with the staples, and then moving on to other things."
Retailers even in hard-hit areas, such as Roche Bros' store in Mashpee, Mass., near Cape Cod, had re-opened by Monday, and were looking forward to a New England-Philadelphia Super Bowl on Feb. 6.
"You normally get a good Super Bowl. But when it's local teams, there's that much more interest," said Flynn. "One retailer told me the Patriots have been such a good boost, they now have to rely on them for same-store sales. They need to win every year."