Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hot and Cold

Mind-numbing weather good for some businesses, not so much for others

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Shovels entice shoppers at the Superstore on McPhillips Street.


Shovels entice shoppers at the Superstore on McPhillips Street. Photo Store

Taking care of business during bone-chilling winter weather can be good or bad, depending on the business.

A survey of Winnipeg businesses shows some are profiting from the unbroken weeks of sub-zero cold, while other businesses have found sales cooled off considerably.



"We had to place emergency orders for snowthrowers and car batteries," said Rob Petkau, the general manager of the Canadian Tire store on Regent Avenue Thursday.

He explained the extended cold weather has increased business, and most seasonal sales have come from electric heaters, car batteries, block heater cords, snow blowers and shovels.

Canadian Tire mechanics were especially busy, working non-stop to deal with the high demand of cars needing repair.



Scott Jocelyn, executive director of the Manitoba Restaurant and Foodservices Association, said the cold weather took a bite out of the restaurant industry. December is traditionally the busiest month for restaurateurs, but weeks of bitter wind chills kept many people (and their holiday-spending spirit) at home.

Customer counts were down across the board last month, Jocelyn said. Couple that with the typically slow January sales and it hasn't been a banner winter for food and drink establishments.

"Let's put it this way: We don't need a reason not to go out," Jocelyn offered. "It was tough. It's -45, you're worried about your car -- is it going to start? -- and people just want to get home after work. The cold certainly wasn't good for us. It hasn't been as busy as we'd like it."



Shopping malls in Winnipeg were still putting the finishing touches on their numbers for December, so any impact the cold weather had on sales was still uncertain. Deborah Green, general manager of the Polo Park shopping centre, said while the retail numbers aren't yet in (she expects them later this month) there are some positive signs.

"I know our traffic was up during the holiday season, which starts for us on Black Friday (Nov. 29)," Green said, referencing the automatic counters the mall has in place at the entrances. "It was up about eight per cent from last year.



Not surprisingly, the extreme cold weather has slowed the trucking industry.

Bob Dolyniuk of the Manitoba Trucking Association said there have been many equipment failures.

"The new environmental control technologies in the new engines have experienced plenty of breakdowns in the cold weather," he said.

"Just making deliveries in the city in the last few days with the traffic creeping around rather than moving at the normal speed means deliveries take longer," he said.



Bikes & Beyond owner Phil Roadley labelled the cold a mixed blessing. The bike shop, which sells cross-country ski equipment and apparel when the snow starts to fly, reported a slight drop in equipment sales through December (eight per cent).

Cross-country ski rentals were also down 13 per cent, but clothing sales were up (38 per cent) from a year ago, Roadley added.

Roadley noted that overall, his December sales were up 25 per cent at the store last month.

The reason? Fat bikes.

Sales of the winter riders -- bicycles with huge tires that plow through the soft snow while grabbing the slick terrain at the same time -- were up 56 per cent in December, Roadley said.



Meanwhile, the break in cold temperatures this weekend is a welcome relief for people at Springhill Winter Park.

There's been plenty of snow, but the cold has really made an impact, with nearly half the available nights of operation forced to close due to extreme wind chills.

Where it really was felt was during the Christmas break, when schools were out and kids were ready to ski and snowboard.

"It depends on the day, but usually when (the wind chill) hits around the -34 mark we close down," said assistant general manager Kevin Versteeg. "The fact that we had to close that many days when it was colder than that is insane.



In the month of December alone, CAA provided roadside assistance to close to 20,000 members. They had to bring in employees from the Brandon location to help with the high number of calls, said Angele Faucher, the public and government affairs co-ordinator on Thursday. CAA had a record 48-hour delay for assistance during that time.



A&B Mechanical Ltd., a company that offers 24/7 emergency plumbing and heating services, has also experienced a winter more busy than usual. It received about 10 service calls a day, dealing with problems such as pipes bursting or freezing to absolutely no heating in homes, said Lisa Praznik, the safety co-ordinator and office assistant on Thursday.



In the retail world, the top-selling items were neck-warmers, long johns and winter goggles, said Krista Robinson, the product team leader at Mountain Equipment Co-op. Hand and toe warmers were also a popular item.

"There is a high demand across the border, so it's sometimes difficult to receive as much additional product as we would like," said Robinson, referring to the extreme cold weather across the continent.



While some businesses have benefited big time from the deep freeze, one University of Manitoba economist said a prolonged cold snap is usually bad news for the local economy as a whole because it discourages consumers from getting out and spending their money.

"What makes an economy is people spending money," John McCallum said in an interview. "And this weather is more conducive to people staying home, flipping on the TV and watching a movie."

And one of the biggest losers of all during these cold-weather events is the provincial government, McCallum said.

Prolonged cold snaps tend to lead to more people getting sick or injured, he explained, which means more trips to the doctor or hospital. So it's like a double whammy for the government -- a drop in tax revenues plus an increase in health care costs.


-- with files from Adam Wazny, Martin Cash and Murray McNeil

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 10, 2014 0

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