Post-Christmas sales are a mixed bag after blizzard

By Erin Ailworth and Johnny Diaz
Globe Staff / December 28, 2010

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At CambridgeSide Galleria yesterday afternoon, mall officials were expecting lighter crowds as some residents spent their time digging out from the snowstorm. But at Charles Street Supply Co. and Hardware on Beacon Hill, business was booming — for the same reason.

“It’s kind of crazy,’’ said owner Jack Gurnon, who sold out of snow shovels by early afternoon. “But we’re having fun.’’

A nor’easter that began Sunday continued to dump snow on Greater Boston early yesterday, resulting in a mixed bag for businesses. There was less after-Christmas foot traffic for some local malls expecting shoppers to cash in their gift cards on one of the busiest shopping days of the year. At the same time, there was a flurry of unexpected sales for restaurants that deliver and stores that sell shovels, groceries, and alcohol.

Analysts expected the storm to temper what has otherwise been the best holiday season for retailers since 2007, which was a record year. That is because the week between Dec. 26 and New Year’s Day accounts for more than 15 percent of holiday spending, according ShopperTrak, a research firm in Chicago. But because the storm started after Christmas, the loss will be less significant than last year, when a snowstorm on the Saturday before Christmas cost retailers $2 billion. And analysts say sales could still rebound once the weather clears.

“We always see a large impact when there’s substantial weather, especially in the Northeast,’’ ShopperTrak spokesman Aaron Martin said. “Later in the week and next weekend could see some stronger performance when folks dig out.’’

Chris G. Christopher Jr., an economist at IHS Global Insight, a Lexington forecasting firm, said that the snowstorm will “definitely put a damper’’ on after-Christmas sales but may not do much damage to the overall holiday shopping season, especially since consumers outside of the Northeast spent much of yesterday scouring sales racks as stores advertised post-holiday promotions. He also expects some retailers to extend holidays sales because of the storm.

“Everything was very good until Christmas,’’ said Christopher, whose firm is predicting total holiday sales will be about 5 percent over last year. “The consumer is making somewhat of a comeback.’’

At CambridgeSide Galleria in Cambridge, all 120 stores were open by about 11 a.m. yesterday and the mall was expecting foot traffic akin to a regular weekday — not one of the busiest shopping days of the year.

“It’s definitely going to be quieter,’’ said mall spokeswoman Jennifer Rotigliano. “Even with the snow, we’ll pick up later.’’

Vicki Bartkiewicz, marketing director at South Shore Plaza, said the mall opened at noon — two hours late — and earlier in the day, crews plowed snow from the parking lot and walkways. But she said officials were expecting some diehard shoppers, despite the storm.

“We are anticipating having good traffic in the shopping center today,’’ Bartkiewicz said.

So far, total holiday retail sales in the United States grew by 5.5 percent over last season, according to the latest SpendingPulse, a report by MasterCard Advisors that tracks national retail and service sales across all forms of payment, including cash and check. The report, issued yesterday, showed that eCommerce and apparel sales — particularly menswear — led the season.

Locally, Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said his group expects overall holiday sales to be up by at least 4 percent over last year despite the storm.

“Those gift cards and those cash gifts are still going to get spent, it’s just going to get spread out a little bit more,’’ he said. “The 50 to 75 percent off sales will still be there tonight and the rest of the week, and the merchandise will still be there, and consumers will still have plenty of opportunity to get out there.’’

And, Hurst said, some retail outlets, particularly grocery and hardware stores, often benefit from inclement weather as consumers stock up on necessities such as food, salt for the sidewalk, and snow shovels.

Gurnon said his hardware store isn’t usually open the day after Christmas but he made an exception when he saw the snow forecast for Boston.

When he arrived at noon Sunday, there were “a dozen people waiting outside,’’ he said.

At Milton Village Hardware, Colby Thomason, a partner in the store, said he received triple the usual amount of calls, about 20, for snow blower repairs. Since Sunday, the shop has sold five snow blowers, which, with a starting price of $350, have brought in about a week’s worth of sales.

George Ashur, who needed some parts for his snow blower and an extra shovel so that his children — home from college for the holiday — could help clear the snow from around his Milton house, went to Milton Village Hardware yesterday afternoon.

And of course, people also needed to shovel food into their mouths during the storm.

At Windy City Pizza in Dorchester, an employee said that there was a 20 percent spike in business yesterday because of the snow. The increase is mostly from phone orders for deliveries.

“We’re really busy,’’ said the employee who had to hang up to take more orders.

Material from the Associated Press is included in this report. Erin Ailworth can be reached at; Johnny Diaz at