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Businesses feeling the pinch after historic snowfall

Union Leader Correspondent

February 14. 2015 8:26PM
Joe Cortese, owner of Noble Spirit, which sells coins, stamps and collectibles online, inspects an old stamp, at his business located in Pittsfield. The recent storms have caused staffing problems for the company. (UNION LEADER FILE)

While harsh winters are par for the course in the Granite State, little could have prepared business owners for the hit some have taken during the recent record-breaking snowfall.

"This storm just hit us so intensely, so dramatically, that I don't think, no matter how well prepared you were, it's still a full-time job just trying to keep up with it," said Joe Cortese, owner of Pittsfield-based Noble Spirit, an eBay seller of rare coins, stamps and collectibles.

Cortese's 21-person staff, who work daily at taking pictures of merchandise, posting and updating the company's eBay page, have lost 215 hours of productivity - or between $55,000 and $60,000 in sales - in the last two weeks alone as a result of the snow.

"Let's say we expect every lister to produce 10 listings a day, which are worth $100 each," he said. "If that guy or that young lady doesn't come in (because of the weather), then we've lost $1,000."

One of Cortese's shipping professionals lives close by and has been able to come into work through the weather, he said. Another, however, lives 45 minutes away in Gilmanton. With shipping short-staffed, Noble Spirit faces additional challenges.

"Somebody in California isn't paying attention to how much snow we're getting in New Hampshire," he said. "Their expectations remain absolutely the same, whether we have a storm or not.

Kingston-based, which ships its products nationwide, has been facing similar issues to Noble Spirit.

"The biggest challenge we face on the initial day of a snow emergency is trucks are leaving early, and planes are leaving early," said president and chief executive officer Ryan Abood. "We do lose sales hours (and) number of hours in the day that we can take orders to still get out today, and that certainly hurts the top line."

Also, carriers like UPS, FedEx and the Postal Service don't claim responsibility for delayed deliveries, leaving the blame on companies like Abood's.

"In our industry, everything's time-sensitive," he said. "If a package is delivered really late in the date, its value is sort of diminished to the sender."

Abood's company has also taken a hit with fewer people in the region doing online shopping during the day.

"If people are not at work, sales suffer," he said. "When they're home with kids on a snow day, they're shopping more for personal consumables than they are (for) gifts."

At Kay's Bakery in Manchester, the successive storms haven't given the business or its customers much time to recover.

"It's been bad," said proprietor Kay Skilogianis, or just "Kay" to longtime customers at the bakery on Lake Avenue. "It's been pretty intense. I think this is throwing a lot more people off."

Skilogianis said the snow has affected on all businesses. When customers don't go out to work, they don't stop by the bakery for coffee and a bite to eat. They may also have less money to spend.

"It just trickles down," she said. "When Mother Nature drops in, there's nothing you can do about it."

Restaurants have also been hit hard in recent weeks, with few braving the dangerous roads to go out to eat.

"(During) the blizzard (at the end of January), we took 100 percent loss. We never opened," said Tom Boucher, owner and CEO of Great New Hampshire Restaurants, which operates Copper Door, T-Bones and Cactus Jack's locations in Bedford, Manchester, Salem, Hudson, Derry and Laconia.

In the two following storms, the restaurant group was down 70 percent and 50 percent in sales respectively, Boucher said.

Boucher said the company didn't offer any specials to get customers in the door during the bad weather, saying they had tried that approach before, and it was unsuccessful.

"The public really didn't receive that well," he said. "They thought it was not in the spirit of trying to make sure people were safe."

Hourly employees at the restaurants, like wait staff, bartenders and cooks, also suffer from lost wages during slow business periods, Boucher said.

"The hourly people take a big hit," he said. "This has clearly been the worst 30 days of weather impact (on my business) that I can remember. It's been brutal."

Boucher said he hopes the business would make back at least some of the lost sales over the Valentine's Day weekend. The Copper Door in Bedford was booked solid from 3 to 10 p.m. on both Friday and Saturday.

Abood, however, said the outlook wasn't as good for his company.

"A Saturday Valentine's Day is historically a weak Valentine's Day for us in this industry," he said. When people aren't at work on the holiday, they're more likely to present a loved one with a gift, rather than have it delivered to their significant other's place of work.

Business owners agree that bumps in the road like this are a reality of doing business in New Hampshire.

"If you want to live in a beautiful place where it is economically favorable, I guess this is the price you've got to pay," Cortese said.

"It is what it is - it's New Hampshire," Boucher said.

Union Leader Reporter Doug Alden contributed to this report.

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