June 24, 2018
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Ice, snow hinder holiday shoppers

By Abigail Curtis, BDN Staff

BELFAST, Maine — Oh, the weather outside is pretty frightful — and that has taken a toll on many Maine retail establishments during the final days of the all-important holiday shopping season.

Two weekends worth of wintry weather have kept many would-be shoppers off the roads and out of stores during the shorter-than-usual season, and that is troubling to many merchants.

“Hopefully, tomorrow people will be out in force. But to be truthful, to make up with what we’ve lost, it’s really impossible,” Rick Vigue, owner of Bangor gift shop Rebecca’s, said Monday afternoon.

His store did about a quarter of its usual business on Sunday, and last Sunday was essentially a washout during the big snowstorm.

“Next year we’ll be able to say it is a banner year compared to this year,” Vigue said. “With the short season and with the weather — it’s been a difficult year for retailers, it really has.”

Curtis Picard of the Retail Association of Maine said that while the media can overstate the importance of specific shopping days, such as Black Friday, the shopping season that begins in late October and lasts through mid-January is crucial to the financial well-being of the state’s merchants. Many shoppers listened to the dire weather reports and stayed home during the ice storm on Sunday.

“I’m still cautiously optimistic,” he said. “But on a regional level, and specifically in Maine with this ice storm — it was just a poorly timed storm.”

Brad Ryder, owner of Epic Sports in Bangor, said he has been doing brisk business in winter supplies such as ice scrapers. And having snow on the ground means that shoppers are thinking about buying snowshoes, cross-country skis and winter apparel.

“That’s been really good,” he said Monday. “But Sunday should have been a lot busier than it was. It was definitely pretty slow going. Today’s picking up. … We’d love to make up lost ground.”

In Belfast, shoppers cautiously picked their way up icy sidewalks Monday morning to buy last-minute presents, stocking stuffers and supplies for holiday feasts. Sharon Goguen of Belfast selected specialities from Eat More Cheese on Main Street.

“We went nowhere yesterday,” she said while paying for her purchases. “It took us over an hour to get the ice off the car this morning. I have to do a few little things right here in town, and Belfast is a great little town to shop in.”

In Bangor, where Vigue described the downtown streets on Sunday as nearly deserted, James Gerety, the general manager of the Bangor Mall, said that far fewer people shopped than the usual Sunday before Christmas.

“It certainly has impacted sales,” he said.

According to Gerety, stores in the mall get a significant amount of traffic after the Christmas holiday.

“Post-Christmas shopping is becoming more and more important,” he said. “Retailers will pick up a little ground that they’ve lost to some untimely weather.”

Some retailers who do a lot of online sales said that the bad weather hasn’t slowed them down. In fact, Rachel Caron, the manager of Fiore Artisan Olive Oils & Vinegars in Bar Harbor, said that huge snowstorms can mean more people are home shopping on the Internet and more online sales for the speciality food store.

“It’s pretty crazy and we feel like we’re shorthanded, but that’s a good thing,” she said, adding that employees have been working hard to pack up gifts to ship out of town. “The website — it’s the way a lot of people think, nowadays.”

But the recent spell of treacherous winter weather can affect even businesses that do online-only sales. Nathaniel Bernier of Appleton runs his Wild Rufus Consignments and Music from his house, but he still has to ship out the goods he sells.

“I’ve been struggling the last couple of days getting to the actual post office,” he said. “The weather has been the hindrance on that.”

In southern Maine, at least one merchant is reporting better-than-expected sales during the weekend ice storm. Rod Sweeney of Pandemonium, which has locations in Portland and Ogunquit, said that last-moment Christmas shoppers helped salvage his Sunday.

“I thought yesterday was going to be a total waste, but we were only down a little bit,” he said Monday. “We really thought it was going to be terrible.”

After the previous weekend’s snowstorm, his Portland store was down by $1,700 in Sunday sales, but he added that the threat of freezing rain unfortunately does keep shoppers from the south away from Maine.

“We couldn’t get enough business with just Maine people — there’s just not enough people,” Sweeney said. “The big thing here is, if it’s going to be a chance of freezing rain, you lose the people coming up from Massachusetts and other places. You’ll see groups of women coming up on shopping trips, and they’ll go to the fanciest restaurants.”

BDN writer Seth Koenig contributed to this report.

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