Area businesses loved the snow, hated the cold
Many area businesses benefited from the positive effects of the earliest and best snow in years, but the extended bitter cold kept too many customers indoors and the potential of another late spring has locals on edge.
Businesses reliant on snowmobilers in one way or another appreciated the frequent and heavy snowfall, beginning with eight inches on Dec. 2, followed by another nine inches only two days later.
Al’s Marine of Crosslake, a Yamaha snowmobile dealer, and Seaberg Motorsports of Crosslake, which sells and rents snowmobiles, both reported an increase in sales as compared to a typical winter.
“We’ve been wide open busy right up until the weekend before last, right up until the 15th,” said Russ Seaberg, owner of Seaberg Motorsports. Seaberg said his profits are up by 50 percent over last year, and in addition to an increase in sales and rentals, his business has seen an increase in snowmobile service work as well.
Boyd Lodge manager Mike Schwieters echoed those positive sentiments.
“From a business standpoint, having snow is huge for us, getting the snowmobilers up in the area,” he said. “We always like to see that start early, and it did this year.”
Local restaurants and bars generally noticed an increase in business from snowmobilers on the warmer weekends. Amy Hanson, owner of Lucky’s Tavern in Pequot Lakes, said business is up this winter compared to the past.
“It’s actually been going really well,” she said. “Lots of snowmobile traffic this year.”
Several owners and managers commended the efforts of the Crow Wing County Snowmobile Trail Association in maintaining area trails and the impact that had on continually attracting groups of snowmobilers.
“The trails were in great shape. We had a really good time with that,” Schwieters said.
While the snow certainly had its benefits, the cold seemed to cancel out many of those.
Kim Perkins, part owner of Al’s Marine, said the trails were great, but only for people who were brave enough to go riding.
“The cold slowed it (business) down, because people didn’t want to ride in such cold weather,” she said.
Dawn Maucieri, owner of Maucieri’s Italian Bistro in Crosslake, said her business has suffered this winter.
“I was talking to my dad, we moved here in ‘74, and he doesn’t remember a winter like this one ever,” she said. “Even the locals, during the week you couldn’t get people to come out of their houses.”
Maucieri said she has had to cut down on employees, but the catering business has kept them going.
Caroljean Weise of Weise Clothing & Variety in Pequot Lakes reported that in her 36 years of business, this is the slowest winter she’s ever had. She attributed this to the extreme cold as well as the high cost of propane fuel.
“If you’re on a limited income and you’ve got to stay warm, you don’t have the extra to go and get little things,” she said.
She said students and teachers picking up supplies for school projects and stir crazy crafters kept her afloat.
“People didn’t go out unless they absolutely had to,” she said. “I wouldn’t go out unless I absolutely had to, myself.”
Janice Gardiner, owner of Gardiner’s Hardware Store in Pine River, reported a similar winter.
“It’s the worst winter we’ve ever had,” Gardiner said. “People are using all their money to pay for heating bills. The price of propane went so high, after they have paid their heating bills they don’t have any money left. Unless something breaks they aren’t going to fix it.”
The family-owned hardware store hasn’t even benefitted from the plumbing problems that are rampant through the area. Frozen sewer lines and water mains require more than just a fitting from the local hardware store, often requiring professional help.
The one thing that is selling well is paint.
“Right now people are going stir crazy being stuck inside. They are starting to buy paint. They need to have something to do, and they can’t go outside yet. They can’t work on their yards yet, but they need something to do,” Gardiner said.
Not everyone noticed the cold dragging down the snows’ benefits, however.
Lukas Organista, general manager of Pine Peaks Lodge in Crosslake, said that in comparison to the previous winters with little snow, this year has been a lot better.
“Snow is always good, it’s going to bring people,” he said. “Once there’s snow on the ground, the cold doesn’t matter as much.”
Nearby Lundrigan’s Clothing in Crosslake also reported steady business all winter, despite a couple of closures because of the cold weather.
“Weekends have been really good for us, so that made up for it,” said manager Christina Lapka.
Dave Gravdahl, general manager of Breezy Point Resort, said that despite some unhappy maintenance workers tasked with snow removal, this winter has been a typical one for the business.
“The ice arena’s done well for us, a lot of hockey tournaments,” he said. “Our timeshare owners were happy. I noticed more snow machines on trailers.”
Service businesses may experience less of an impact from both the snow and cold. In fact, Cindy Couture, owner of Salon Couture in Pequot Lakes, said school closures typically lead to an increase in appointments for her business. She reported that overall, her salon is probably right where it typically would be at this time of year.
There have been increased expenses associated with the extreme winter, however, including two pipe freezings and heating costs.
“We’re getting really creative this year. We’ve got blow dryers going because the furnace couldn’t keep up,” she said. “We lost 2 1/2 days of business due to frozen water, but you end up pushing clients back so it fills out other days.”
One type of business that benefits from harsh winter weather is a hardware store.
“The positive was, bad weather is good business in a hardware store,” said Dan Soller, owner of Ace Hardware in Crosslake. “You can sell a lot of shovels, snow blowers and salt.”
Bob Peterson, manager of Thurlow’s Hardware in Pequot Lakes, agreed.
“What’s bad for others is always good for others, it seems like,” he said.
Still, even with the initial boost to business from winter-related supplies, both stores reported business was down for them this winter. Greg Carlson, owner of Carlson Hardware in Nisswa, also said the cold weather slowed down business.
“It was like too much of an extreme,” Carlson said. “If we would have had a normal winter we would have sold a lot of snow shovels and that kind of stuff. It snowed, but then it was so, so cold. I think it kept people in.
“There were so many super raw days you just couldn’t do anything with the outdoors,” he said. “We’re OK, but I think if it was a normal year, it would have been better.”
Soller said the longevity of the cold season is what puts a damper on his customer count.
“It usually puts a drain on the overall business environment,” he said. “It’s all about traffic flow and customers in our area.”
Peterson said people just didn’t want to go outside this winter.
“What really hurt us is the extended cold, long clouding over, where nothing was happening,” he said. “What we need now is a real spring where people get out.”
Peterson’s hope for spring was consistently shared across the board of more than a dozen businesses surveyed. After last year’s lingering lake ice and extended cold temperatures, many businesses are still playing catch-up from the shortened summer.
Soller said Ace Hardware was down by 40 percent last April, and that had a lasting impact on the rest of the year.
“Because of April last year, our customer count never came back,” he said. “You never make up that ground. And we still have snow on the ground.”
Jess Eide, owner of Moonlite Bay in Crosslake, said she would prefer to see a shorter snow season.
“I’m afraid that with all this snow and ice we have remaining, it’s going to be a long, uneventful spring,” she said. “A lot of people won’t come back early. They’ll stay wherever warm area they are longer than usual.”
Perkins said late ice on the lakes particularly impacts Al’s Marine as the business transitions from snowmobile sales to pontoon rentals.
“It makes it hard for our boating customers to go boating when there’s no water to boat on,” she said. “Because people have to wait, then it gets to be a mad rush. The boats don’t trickle out of storage.”
Larry Schultz, owner of Tip Top Resort and Tip Top Building and Remodel, said most of his resort business is repeat customers, so a late spring likely wouldn’t impact them too much.
“We don’t have a lot of fishermen who come here for fishing,” he said.
Nancy Koch, owner of Northwedge Greenhouse in Crosslake, said a cool spring slows everything down for her business.
“Things might be a little slower coming in because our growers in other parts of the country are having more difficulty,” she said.
She said typically business picks up around Mother’s Day, but last year’s late spring delayed that until Memorial Day. She remained optimistic, as many other owners and managers did.
“If the snow melts and it gets warm, it could pick up right away,” she said.
Gravdahl said Breezy Point Resort still plans to open the golf course by the third week of April.
“We’re looking forward to spring and a good summer,” he said.
Travis Grimler and Nancy Vogt contributed to this story.