Northern Hudson Valley Wineries Hurt by Ice Storms
Weather does more damage to retailers’ pre-holiday profits
Saturday, December 13, 2008
By James Schlett
CAPITAL REGION — A green banner hanging from the brick façade of a former auto parts warehouse waved in a frigid breeze Friday morning, calling attention to what should have been the first factory sale for the Marika Charles collection of clothing.
Outside the building, a slushy Catalyn Street in Rotterdam was devoid of traffic and unplowed. A locked gate stood in front of the building’s glass doors.
Through them, lines of tables were visible with plastic covering the designer T-shirts, knitwear and dresses that are usually sold at upscale clothing stores in Manhattan and Los Angeles.
Marika Charles was one of many retailers that saw their big day spoiled by the ice storm that hit the Northeast early Friday, leaving thousands of people without heat and electricity and countless roads blocked by downed trees and power lines. In the Capital Region, 210,000 homes and businesses lost utility services.
“We are suffering like many of our neighbors. …This certainly seems manageable. I think we’re better prepared than we’ve ever been,” said Golub.
The ice storm was especially painful for non-food retailers, coming on a Friday less than two weeks before Christmas in what already was a lackluster holiday shopping season. However, store activity slowly picked up in the afternoon as the sun — along with consumers bent on taking advantage of a day off from work or school — made an appearance.
By mid-afternoon, Colonie Center’s parking lot was packed.
For many area retailers, the ice storm hit them when they were already down. Retail chain store sales nationwide last month fell to a 39-year low. Retailers have been counting on the two-week run-up to Christmas to help offset earlier problems, and the loss of a key Friday could hurt many bottom lines.
“Devastation is a strong word. We are heading into our busy season. So we’ll do our best to deal with it. There’s still two weeks left,” said Becky Valenti, the marketing manager for Rotterdam Square and Wilton Mall.
Wanting to take advantage of the pre-Christmas rush, Crossgates Mall in Guilderland opened an hour early Friday, at 8 a.m. With many roads still slick at that hour, the mall had a quiet morning. By noon, its parking lots looked half full.
“With school closings and the roads getting better throughout the day, we would expect to see traffic increase,” said Crossgates general manager Terri Walsh.
Across Western Avenue in Guilderland, John Conway lost power at his home around 4 a.m. He had a candlelight breakfast and then did some swimming at the Guilderland YMCA, which had power. Around 1 p.m., he pulled into the Crossgates parking lot with his wife and three daughters, ages 10 months to 6 years. School was canceled for the two older girls.
The family’s plan was to walk around the mall, get lunch and maybe see a movie.
“We don’t want to go home where there’s no power, so we’re going to the mall,” said Conway.
Like nearby Crossgates, The Book House at Stuyvesant Plaza opened an hour earlier for the holidays at 9 a.m. But no more than two people walked into the Guilderland shop during that initial hour. The bookstore encountered no power problems and customer traffic picked up in the afternoon, but the ice storm still had floor manager Dan Schreffler nervous.
“If you have a lost day, it’s not like you can make it up in the end. … It will take a bite out of the season. On the other hand, it happens every year,” Schreffler said.
Friday’s ice storm gave Judy Mabrazo a chance to spend more of the afternoon with her daughter, Angela, who had the day off from school. The Selkirk nurse and her daughter visited Stuyvesant Plaza with plans to get lunch at Bountiful Bread and then do some shopping at Crossgates. If nothing else, they enjoyed the drive up to Guilderland, with ice-glazed trees lining the streets.
“It looks so beautiful, but I understand a lot of damage was done,” said Judy Mabrazo.
That damage will likely have a lasting effect on businesses. Rensselaer County’s declaration of a state of emergency had Sue Goold Miller fretting about the annual holiday open house at her Goold Orchards and Brookview Station Winery scheduled for today.
With power lines down on the road leading to it, the Castleton orchard and winery remained closed Friday, and it was not clear whether they would open today. County residents are encouraged to stay off of roads during the emergency. If need be, Goold Miller said she would reschedule the event to next weekend.
“It’s not good. We don’t need to lose a day of people coming out to buy wine,” she said.