Maine businesses brace for ‘mad rush’ accompanying snow

Jason Carlisle unloads groceries at the Hannaford grocery store on Broadway in Bangor on Feb. 8, 2013. Carlisle said he wasn't stocking up for the storm but thought it was good idea to get some shopping out of the way before it hit.
Carter F. McCall | BDN
Jason Carlisle unloads groceries at the Hannaford grocery store on Broadway in Bangor on Feb. 8, 2013. Carlisle said he wasn't stocking up for the storm but thought it was good idea to get some shopping out of the way before it hit. Buy Photo
Posted Feb. 08, 2013, at 4 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 08, 2013, at 5:08 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — On an average Friday, business doesn’t pick up at Burby & Bates, a beer, wine and liquor store in Orono, until around 3 p.m., according to Jeff Seney, the store’s manager. But on this Friday, as the winter storm bore down on Maine, forcing schools and businesses to close early and send people home, the business had already completed more than 100 transactions before 2 p.m., he said.

When a storm hits, “We do see a bump in business,” said Seney. “We’re a college town, so we have a slightly different clientele than most, but any time they call off school, it’s a mad rush.”

And it’s not just students preparing to let loose, either. “As far as the more adult crowd, there is a spike definitely before the storm,” he said.

There’s no one particular item that gets hit hardest, Seney said. The store stocks 1,000 beers, 3,000 wines and 2,500 liquors, he said, and “everything gets hit.” One thing he does notice is that people usually buy items in bulk.

“Instead of grabbing a six-pack, they are grabbing a 12-pack or trading up to a bigger package, for sure,” said Seney. “There’ll be a lot more hits on 12-packs, 18-packs, and 30-packs.”

Besides beer and liquor, hardware and grocery stores also need to anticipate the rush of customers before a storm.

At the Aubuchon Hardware store in Brewer, Richard Webb, the store’s manager, said he’d already “had quite the rush of customers” on Friday morning preparing for the storm.

“We’re hit on everything,” he said, “sand, shovels and salt … generators, flashlights and batteries, and lamp fuel.”

The hardware store before noon had already closed 150 business transactions, “quite a bit for a small business,” he said. While the store is well-stocked, with extra pallets of sand and rock salt, one item the store did sell out of on Friday morning was hurricane lamps, he said. “But we still have some lamp fuel,” he said.

The snow hadn’t started in Machias by 1 p.m. Friday, so people there hadn’t started rushing in to stock up on rock salt and snow shovels, according to Paul Hoyt, manager of Machias Hardware Co.

“There’s been a few in for kerosene lamps and wicks and things like that,” Hoyt said. “There really isn’t any snow here yet, so no one is really excited, I think.”

But in southern Maine, where there was already 7 inches of snow by early afternoon on Friday, businesses were already entering emergency management mode.

Bangor Savings Bank decided to close its 14 retail branches in York and Cumberland counties early on Friday afternoon, and close all its branches statewide on Saturday.

Any time a serious storm approaches, the bank’s business continuity team gets together to decide how to respond to the situation, and an employee on that team gathers detailed weather data.

“This is standard operating procedure for us,” Joyce Clark Sarnacki, an executive vice president at the bank, said Friday. “It’s based on good information rather than looking at the snow outside our window.”

The bank balances three considerations — customer needs, employee safety and access to alternative banking options — anytime there’s a weather-related event, according to Sarnacki.

While the average retail bank customer isn’t generally affected by a bank closing early, business clients often do have more set schedules. In that case, branch managers personally reach out to commercial customers to let them know the bank is closing ahead of schedule.

“We’ve been known to drive out to get deposits before we close,” Sarnacki said. “It’s a personal level of service to try to make it as painless as possible while keeping our employees safe.”

She added: “We’re lucky in that a lot of people can do their banking even if we’re closed. You can’t get your milk if the grocery store is closed, unless you have a cow.”

Milk is one item people stock up on before a storm, but the two big items Hannaford is careful to have plenty of whenever a storm approaches are water and batteries, according to Eric Blom, a Hannaford spokesman.

“Those items are always in high demand for a storm,” Blom said Friday, adding that bread and chocolate chip morsels also tend to be popular.

Besides being well supplied on the staple items, Blom said Hannaford “will rearrange delivery times, both to maximize replenishment, but also to take into account driver safety.”

While it was quite busy at the Hannaford locations Friday morning, Blom said the stores weren’t being cleared out.

Once the storm really hits, customer numbers drop off, he said, as people hunker down in their homes to wait out the storm, sipping glasses of wine and eating chocolate chip cookies, looking forward to when the snow stops and out come the shovels and rock salt.

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