Harsh winter puts small businesses out in the cold

Published on NewsOK Modified: February 19, 2014 at 12:06 pm •  Published: February 19, 2014
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NEW YORK (AP) — When the wind chill in Chicago hit minus 40 on Jan. 6, Dogs Deserve It shut down. It was too cold outside for the dog walking service's four-legged clients and its employees.

Owner Lauren Pietrocarlo estimates this winter's harsh weather will cost her small business between $10,000 and $18,000.

"We can't afford to hire or give raises. Bonuses are being deferred for a couple of months," Pietrocarlo says. "It's a huge thing losing that much."

Small businesses have suffered this winter with heavy snow, ice and freezing temperatures. Revenue at stores and restaurants plunged as customers stayed home, hurting cash flows that often are tighter at smaller businesses than larger companies. In some areas, the weather has been unusually severe, worsening its toll.

This has been the snowiest winter nationally in four years and the coldest in three years, costing businesses of all sizes and their employees an estimated $15 billion that can't be made up, according to research from Planalytics, which analyzes the economic impact of weather. That includes money for restaurant meals and entertainment, employee wages and canceled trips. It is a small amount compared to the gross domestic product of $16 trillion, but it's significant for companies hurt by the weather, says Evan Gold, a senior vice president at Planalytics.

"We are really talking about a fraction of a percentage point, but in the current environment, every dollar counts," Gold says.

Even Pietrocarlo, who is used to rough winters, is hurting. Closing Dogs Deserve It for one day cost her about $4,000. On other frigid days, customers opted for shorter, less expensive walks. She dipped into company savings to meet payroll and pay other bills, is paying herself less and plans to hold off on new hires, raises and bonuses.

Two storms in Atlanta forced Shaun Curtis to close Buffalo's Cafe for four days. It was too dangerous for his customers or employees to venture to his suburban Loganville restaurant, which serves chicken wings, burgers and salads.

The first storm couldn't have come at a worse time: Super Bowl week.

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