HOULTON, Maine —- Christa Nicholson, a Caribou resident who just returned to Maine two years ago after living with her family in the southern part of the United States, said Thursday that after holding off for one winter, she and her husband finally decided in October to invest in a snowblower and “heavy” winter jackets from L.L. Bean.
“We expected that we would need them pretty much all winter long,” she said. “I didn’t expect that my husband would have only used the snowblower two or three times by now and that he is basically walking around in a couple of heavy sweatshirts a lot of the time.”
According to the National Weather Service in Caribou, the combined December-January time period was the warmest on record in both the Caribou and Bangor areas by more than 2 degrees. And the weather pattern isn’t just impacting snowfall. Business owners in Aroostook County and other parts of the state said this week that the warmer weather has also caused sales of colder weather clothing to drop.
“This weather certainly hasn’t helped,” Joe Sleeper, the owner/operator of Sleepers of Maine, which has locations in Caribou, Bangor, Ellsworth and Waterville. “Our store employees are more inclined to bring out spring wear. It has had an impact from retail right on down to our vendors.”
Sleeper said that even his marketing people are impacted, as they want him to more vigorously pitch some of the winter brands of clothing that the stores sell, such as Carhartt, Columbia Sportswear and the North Face.
“But how do you do that at the Bangor Mall store when Bangor got torrential rain yesterday?” he said Thursday. “How do you market winter items when it is 50 degrees outside?”
At Marden’s in Houlton, Assistant Manager Brian Crane also said that there is more stock on the shelves than usual.
“We have lots of sweatshirts because we overstocked them, but we are not going through them like we normally do,” he said. “Our selection also hasn’t been as big this year, and people have not been buying as much.”
He said that spring fashion should start arriving at the store by March.
“That is about the time we start switching out the product,” he said.
At Mojo in Presque Isle, a store that sells summer and winter outdoor equipment and apparel, owner Mark Fullen said that youth cross country gear has sold the best this season.
“The youth on the cross country ski teams practice no matter what,” he said.
Other than that, he said, sales of adult gear, including skis and snowshoes, are down.
David Heidrich, spokesman for Maine Revenue Services in Augusta, said Friday that the agency’s officials have been hearing “basically the same statements” from business owners statewide, but that it was too early in the season to produce sales tax figures that might support the anecdotal observations.
“There is no data available yet,” he said. “But we are hearing statewide that sales of winterwear is down.”
Curtis Picard, executive director of the Maine Retail Association, also said that he has been hearing the same stories from business owners.
“While we do not have any data on this yet, the reality is it has been a warm winter and sales on winter gear are down,” he said Friday. “We missed the holiday shopping window, and retailers are soon to get spring fashion choices in. Hopefully, they will be able to make up some of the losses by those sales.”
Back at Sleepers, the owner said that vendors also have been “majorly impacted” by the weather this season.
“I have never heard them talk like they are talking this season,” Sleeper said. “It is just the lack of colder weather and snow impacting sales, and it is not just our state, it is all of New England and the whole East Coast.”
Sleeper said that it has not been as bad in his Caribou store, where there is at least a little snow on the ground. To combat the problem in his other stores, he has been buying smaller orders and has been able to find success by selling other products.
“That is all we can do until the weather changes or spring arrives,” he said Thursday.