Area businesses prepare for storm to strike

While individuals are scurrying to procure supplies to get them through the coming storm, stores must begin that process even sooner so they won’t be left with empty shelves. Whether it’s shovels, rock salt, batteries, or foodstuffs, the process of preparing for bad weather begins long before the first flake has fallen.

Both Lowe’s, which has 27 stores in Massachusetts, and Home Depot, which has 30 locations within 50 miles of Boston, began preparing for the New England winter before the season even began. Karen Cobb, a spokesperson for Lowe’s, said that the chain’s stores are stocked based on previous usage patterns and that no extra supplies would need to be shipped in for the upcoming blizzard.

“If something catastrophic happened, we would be able to ship more in, but, we feel at this point we are well-stocked, Cobb said.

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Lowe’s has a number of regional distribution centers including one in Plainfield, Conn., and two in New Jersey. The company tracks storms from its emergency command center in North Carolina monitoring product demand in case a spike is seen for certain products necessitating an emergency shipment.

Stephen Holmes, a spokesperson for Home Depot, echoes Cobb’s comments, saying that his chain’s stores will not need any new shipments to meet the increased demand that the storm will cause.

“We have the stores well-fortified for winter storms with ice melt, shovels, snow blowers, and other supplies, he said. “Our merchandising and supply chain teams work together to resupply stores if that is necessary, but we are well-stocked.

Home Depot has a disaster response operation in its Atlanta headquarters.

Local stores, however, do not have the same supply chains as their bigger competitors and the decision to stock up for a storm can have serious financial consequences if the weather changes. Norma Baars, who co-owns three-year-old Charlestown Ace Hardware at 5 Austin St. in Charlestown said that an incorrect stocking decision could bring a local operation down.

“It can bite you,” she said. “There’s a hardware supplier that really upped his supplies two years ago because of a storm the year before, and it almost took them out when the next year the snowfall did not happen.”

Baars has been tracking the storm all week, but since her shop is as she describes it, “not a high-volume store, with limited storage space,” there is only so much inventory she can bring in. Baars did find a second supplier to supplement her weekly delivery from her normal source, but she does expect to run out of some items.

“It’s a role of the dice. We’re preparing for outages, so, we have some D cells, flashlights, lanterns, candles and matches, but we could sell out,” she said. “We want to make sure we have things, but people are taking multiple amounts instead of just one or two.”

Another local hardware store co-owner, Meg Gurnon of Charles Street Supply Co. at 54 Charles St. on Beacon Hill echoed some of her colleagues’ concerns about the potential financial hit her store could take if the storm does not hit.

“We’re making a big bet that the storm will hit,” she said. “We don’t have a lot of storage space, so if we have product that lingers thought the winter, we will have to store it, but if the weather is as expected, we will pretty much sell out during a storm.”

Gurnon said she will sell all the normal items that hardware stores do during storms, but she had a surprising best-seller that will fly off the shelves first.

“Sleds are the first to go. We’ll sell a ton of rock salt and we took three tons of products just for the storm, but sleds will go the fastest,” she said.

Beyond winter weather supplies

Supermarkets are also hit hard before storms and the Stop & Shop chain has been monitoring the weather all week to prepare for this one.

“We’re nearly a hundred years old, so we have a pretty thorough process for this,” said Suzi Robinson, spokesperson for Stop & Shop New England. “We bring in extra water, batteries, bread, shovels, ice melt things that people need to sustain themselves in case of a power outage. For this storm, once we started hearing the forecasts, we started mobilizing.”

Because Stop & Shop already has multiple daily deliveries to its stores, Robinson said it’s not really a question of adding more shipments. Instead, the company adjusts its product mix based upon past experience.

All of the stores in the Stop & Shop New England division as well as all gas stations will be open Thursday until midnight and then will reopen Friday at 6 a.m.

The Shaw’s chain has also been preparing for the storm and, according to spokesperson Steve Sylven, the company has dedicated team for weather events.

“We have protocols in place to help make sure we’re delivering what we can to our stores leading up to and after the storm,” he said.

Shaw’s is not planning to have extra hours leading up to the storm, but, the company does have some 24-hour stores and many stores, Sylven said are open until 10 or 11 anyway.

Hotels and restaurants

While bad weather brings at least a short-term spike in business for hardware stores and supermarkets, its impact can be devastating for restaurants.

“Because of the day, it will hurt restaurants. I think people will want to stay home rather than go out,” said Massachusetts Restaurant Association Communications Director Christine Johnson.

The hit could even be worse than losing a typical Friday and possibly Saturday night of business as next Thursday is Valentine’s Day and, with the holiday being on a Thursday, some couples celebrate in advance. Robinson thinks that the loss of the pre-holiday to weather will not be a huge hit.

“Thankfully, it’s not actually Valentine’s Day,” she said. “I find that business shifts – especially with Valentine’s Day – people will make it for the next day or the following weekend.”

For hotels, the bad weather will be a mixed bag as many reservations will be canceled, but others will be made as people either get stuck in town or are forced to leave their houses due to power outages.

Paul Sacco, President of the Massachusetts Lodging Association said that most hotels make common sense preparations like going to their catering clients and offering to reschedule events. Sacco also said that in every case he has heard of, hotels are letting people cancel reservations without charging them a penalty.

“While there are cancellations, they are also getting requests for reservations for people who want to stay longer or people who don’t want to be home during the storm,” he said.

Sacco said that the timing of the storm will hurt hotels as if it occurred during the week, many establishments would have blocks of rooms booked by areas businesses. Because the storm’s major impact will be on a Friday into a Saturday that will not be the case.

Hotels in the area, Sacco said, will all be open and most will set aside rooms for staff member so they do not have to travel during bad weather.