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Snowstorm heaps more economic misery on stores

"Let's put it this way: Frozen yogurt is not the first thing that comes to mind in a snowstorm," says Aaron Gordon, who expects business at his two Tangysweet stores will be down for the next week.
"Let's put it this way: Frozen yogurt is not the first thing that comes to mind in a snowstorm," says Aaron Gordon, who expects business at his two Tangysweet stores will be down for the next week. (Bill O'leary/the Washington Post)
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By Ylan Q. Mui, V. Dion Haynes and Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 9, 2010

In the long run, the record snowfall that has assailed the Washington region will go down as a mere blip in an economic landscape dominated by the recession, the experts say. But that is cold comfort to many local businesses forced to shut down and dig out over the weekend just as they hoped to turn the corner toward recovery.

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"It's insult to injury," said Mauro Farinelli, part-owner of clothing store Denim Bar in Pentagon Row. "People are already having a hard time selling their wares, and we get dumped on."

Sara Damelio, management consultant for the Still Point in Takoma Park, estimated that the holistic spa lost as much as $17,000 after closing its doors Saturday and Sunday. Entrepreneur David Von Storch put the weekend's losses at his three Capitol City Brewing Co. restaurants at $200,000. Aaron Gordon, who owns the Red Velvet cupcake shop in the District's Penn Quarter and two Tangysweet frozen yogurt stores, calculated his hit between $10,000 and $15,000.

"Let's put it this way: Frozen yogurt is not the first thing that comes to mind in a snowstorm," he said. "I think we're going to be affected for the next week."

Stephen S. Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said the Washington region's economy measures about $400 billion annually and estimated that the storm cost firms hundreds of millions in potential sales -- for now. An analysis he performed after a crippling snowstorm in January 1996 showed that much of the loss was recouped over the next few months. He said another recovery is likely to happen this time.

Another bright spot, however small: February tends to be a slow month for businesses anyway. In addition, Scott Bernhardt, chief operating officer of Planalytics, which forecasts weather for businesses, said the storm could have caused more damage if it had derailed Valentine's Day or the Presidents' Day weekend.

Barbara B. Lang, president and chief executive of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, said businesses such as law offices and accounting firms can operate during snow emergencies if employees are able to work remotely. But for restaurants and retailers that depend on shopper traffic, the pain will be greater.

Jen Donahue, owner of Treat clothing boutique in Old Town Alexandria, said she might have been able to make up lost sales if the snow had stopped after the storm in December. But snow closed the shop about a week ago and again on Saturday -- typically her busiest day of the week -- and it could get hammered again if the latest predictions for up to 10 inches of snow on Tuesday pan out.

"Mother Nature has definitely not been kind to us retailers this season," Donahue said. "I think it's going to be really hard, given the number of Saturdays that we'd been affected."

Local restaurateurs echoed her sentiments. Robert Barolin, owner of the City Square Cafe, a small, family-owned restaurant in Old Town Manassas, estimated that he has lost at least $8,000 in revenue since he shut down Friday. He tried opening for an hour and a half on Sunday but closed again after customers failed to materialize. Von Storch said two of his restaurants rely heavily on lunch traffic from federal employees, which has all but vanished as the government shut down.

"It's killing us," von Storch said. "Like an airplane that leaves empty, you never fill that seat again."

Instead, shoppers flocked to grocery stores to stock up on basics before the storm hit. Safeway spokesman Greg Ten Eyck said he expected Washington area stores to see an overall increase in sales as many families gathered ingredients to cook for several days.


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