You know it’s a tough winter when L.L. Bean runs out of boots.
The Freeport-based retailer is one Maine company for which a harsh winter means sunny days at the cash register, with a significant boost in sales of winter gear before, during or after a major snowfall. The result can be seen on the L.L. Bean website: Several popular sizes and styles of the trademark “Bean boot” are out of stock.
For most businesses, ice storms and heavy snowfall can prompt customers to stay at home, parking spaces to disappear, snow-removal expenses to mount, and sales to plummet. But some can count on sales spikes when snow falls. Among them: the Scarborough-based Hannaford Bros. Co. supermarket chain, Portland-based Otto Pizza, and retailers at the Maine Mall in South Portland.
And, of course, L.L. Bean, which is well ahead of its sales projections for the holiday shopping season.
The severe winter weather is the reason, said company spokesman Mac McKeever. Portland has received 26.2 inches of snow this month, making it the ninth-snowiest December on record, according to the National Weather Service in Gray.
While he would not provide specific revenue figures, McKeever said L.L. Bean customers are snapping up boots, coats, snowshoes and sleds, leaving some wintry items out of stock for anywhere from several days to a few weeks.
“We are very pleased with our results this season,” he said. “We are above budget and are tracking well above last year.”
Hannaford supermarkets tend to get a big boost in business just before a winter storm, said company spokesman Eric Blom.
“Absolutely, people do stock up before storms” on necessities such as bottled water and batteries, Blom said, particularly if there is a threat of a power outage.
However, once a storm hits, business slows down, so the net effect on sales is pretty much a wash, he said.
Not so at the Maine Mall, where winter storms provide a net sales increase to retailers, said General Manager Craig Gorris.
“I think it’s incremental. I think it’s a gain,” Gorris said.
In cold, icy and snowy weather, indoor shopping malls become comfortable places to get out of the cold, he said, and visitors tend to shop while they’re there.
Still, there’s a limit to how bad the weather can get before everything grinds to a halt. “Earlier this year, when we had something like 30 inches of snow, we got clobbered and had to shut down” for a day and a half, Gorris said.
Otto Pizza often gets a boost in calls for delivery during a storm, but the overall effect on pizza sales depends on timing, said company spokesman Eric Shepherd.
“We will see a spike if the storm starts in the early evening, and often another spike after the snow is over with but before the roads are clear,” Shepherd said. “We tend to get a lot of delivery orders when Portlanders start asking, ‘Do I really want to go to the grocery store during this?’ or, ‘Do I really feel like getting out in this?’ ”
For most businesses, heavy snow and ice are seasonal revenue-killers that simply must be endured, said the leader of one business group.
Members of Portland’s Downtown District pay extra for enhanced city snow-removal services to keep sidewalks passable and parking spaces accessible, said Executive Director Steve Hewins.
The pressure to keep roads, sidewalks and parking spaces clear for commerce puts an enormous strain on the nonprofit organization, which is funded by property owners in downtown Portland.
“When we have these big snowstorms, the snow removal is a huge task,” Hewins said. “They have to actually truck the snow from the downtown out to the (Portland International) Jetport.”
Snow removal is a major expense for Portland as well. Just two weeks since the season’s first heavy snowfall, the city has spent nearly 60 percent of its $1 million snow-removal budget for this winter, said Public Services Director Mike Bobinsky. Some of that money covers supplies that will be used for the entire season. For example, the city bought 8,000 tons of salt, and has used 2,000 tons so far, he said.
Still, much of the budget has been spent simply on plowing the streets. The city has already spent 30 percent of its snow-removal overtime budget for the season, Bobinsky said, and another major snowstorm is forecast for Thursday.
“We’ll see where this goes,” he said. “At this point, I think we’re in good shape.”
J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:[email protected]Twitter: @jcraiganderson