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Winter has chilling effect on LI's small businesses

Abe Weisblack, who owns Sweats Appeal, in Plainview,

Abe Weisblack, who owns Sweats Appeal, in Plainview, which sells clothing for women and girls, stands inside his store among the merchandise, Thursday, February 20, 2014. Weisblack estimates sales are down 35 to 40 percent, compared with last year, due to the snow storms. Credit: Steve Pfost

The harsh winter has taken a toll on Long Island's small businesses, forcing some to throw out their old playbooks in order to cope.

At Gino's of Nesconset, the quintessential pizzeria tradition of big food displays became a victim of bad weather. To cut down on waste because of fewer customers, co-owner Joseph Licata said he was displaying less food and making more only on request. So he was showcasing two chicken rolls instead of the customary six. And he was making fewer pies to set out ahead of time.

"You just have to figure out a way to hedge yourself," he said.

Local businesses have faced an onslaught of harsh weather this winter. Since Jan. 1, four major winter storms have hit the Island, each dropping more than six inches of snow, said Lauren Nash, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service in Upton.

One winter storm can be challenging for a business, especially on a weekend, a retail expert said. Four could put its very survival at stake, because it becomes more difficult to recoup lost sales.

"Traditionally one weekend doesn't kill a business," said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst at The NPD Group, a Port Washington-based market research company. "But when you have it weekend after weekend, you can't recover."

Foul weather hurts sales, he said, because consumers tend to forgo the discretionary spending that is so vital to businesses.

"It forces people to buy planned and absolute necessities," Cohen said. "You just don't have enough people coming in to be able to move much of your merchandise."

That was the case at casual clothier Sweats Appeal in Plainview.

"Sometimes you sit here with three or four or five people working," said owner Abe Weisblack, whose 30-year-old store caters to women and girls, "and it turns out we don't need them, because with the weather conditions changing it's just not as busy as we thought it would be."

He estimates that sales are down 35 percent to 40 percent so far this year, compared with last, because fewer customers have ventured out and he had to close the store at least four times for inclement weather.

"Not only did we have some monumental snow, but in between this snow has been freezing cold," he said.

The stormy weather, he said, added insult to injury because a late Thanksgiving and early Hanukkah ate into his December sales.

"That actually took a lot of the shine away from my December business," he said. "And then January with the cold weather -- it just hurt us."

Licata of Gino's was forced to rethink his hours temporarily because of weather and diminished customer traffic. He closed at 7 p.m. a few days instead of the usual 10 p.m., losing prime-time hours that he said cost him 25 percent of each day's sales. Overall, he estimates that sales so far this year have declined 10 percent to 12 percent, compared with a year ago.

But not everyone is crying foul over the harsh weather.

Todd Kirschner, co-owner of Trio Hardware in Plainview, said January sales were strong because of soaring demand for such products as shovels, ice melt, roof rakes and windshield wiper fluid.

"Sales are extremely strong in winter goods," Kirschner said.

Business sales this year are very much a winter's tale, Cohen said, and as a result he has cut stores some slack for diminished revenue.

"I rarely allow retailers to use weather as an excuse," he said. "But this year they really have a legitimate concern."


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