Local businesses have paid big winter toll, but campaign plans may warm up wallets
The business community is talking about ways to rally after a winter that’s been as brutal on bottom lines as it has been on bodies.
While there’s no way to put a dollar amount on the impact citywide of low temperatures and the past weeks’ roughly 95 inches of snow – a better picture may emerge when it comes time to report revenue for the January-to-March quarter for tax purposes – there’s no question businesses have suffered.
“Many businesses are almost on the verge of bankruptcy after three weeks of no business,” vice mayor Dennis Benzan said at a meeting of the City Council held Friday.
While city business representatives didn’t portray the situation at the same level of crisis, they agreed small and midsize businesses have been hurting.
“Nobody is immune to the challenges of dealing with snow or bad weather, no matter what the size of your business,” said Kelly Thompson Clark, president and chief executive of Cambridge’s 1,530-member Chamber of Commerce. “If transportation infrastructure causes a challenge and your people can’t get to work, and if people don’t like to get out in the snow so they’re putting off running their errands and not spending money, that’s a hardship.”
The chamber has spent “a good majority of our time” in the past weeks with companies asking about assistance with parking lots and sidewalks filled with ice and snow, burst pipes, no heat and damaged roofs, Thompson Clark said.
“It’s hard to believe it’s been only, what, three and a half weeks? Feels like it’s been three and a half months,” she said. “Or three and a half years.”
For the business community, this may be the worst winter since 2003, Thompson Clark estimated. While the snow piling up in 2011 was challenging, periods of warmth and melting between storms made the totals easier to deal with. In this case, fierce storms with little to no real recovery time have stressed public transportation used by workers and customers to get around, with Monday being the first day this month that all MBTA subway and trolley lines have been working as usual, and state transportation officials said Tuesday that commuter rail service would stay limited until March.
Transportation was so unreliable in February that the agency might reimburse riders for lost trips, said the resigning MBTA general manager, Beverly Scott, on Monday.
At The Middle East restaurant and nightclub, which typically has three stages operating, “most of the shows had to be canceled, which had a huge financial impact,” and the same troubles hit the nearby Central Square Theater, Middlesex Lounge, Phoenix Landing and T.T. the Bear’s Place, Central Square Business Association Executive Director Robin Lapidus said.
Among other Central Square businesses, “1369 Coffee House and some others were able to round up a local crew to stay open,” Lapidus said. “But for new restaurants like Viale, which is in its first year, it’s hard to do business in January and February even when the weather is more temperate.”
Most businesses turned to social media to keep customers informed about openings, closings and suddenly shortened business hours, she said.
“Ten years ago we wouldn’t have had that kind of tool to make the best of a bad situation,” Lapidus said.
The chamber hasn’t been immune from weather problems, with Thompson Clark dealing with concerns about the pipes at her Central Square offices and having to set a third snow date for an event that “that was supposed to take place Feb. 3 but had a snow date of Feb. 10, and now it’s been moved to March 3 with a snow date of March 10.”
As the weather starts to look less catastrophic – temperatures are headed up to the 30s next week, with only a maximum of 11 inches of snow expected in the 10-day forecast – the business communities are talking about coming together to “put the spotlight on small businesses and business in general and spending your time and your money there,” Thompson Clark said. The public campaign, now in the talking stages, could be announced in the next couple of weeks.
A celebration of the “everyday heroes” such as restaurant workers and Public Works plow operators who kept the city running is in the planning stages for Central Square, Lapidus said. The Snow Ball, with food, drinks and a DJ, is expected to be a private event.
Update on March 3, 2015: An impromptu party called “”Blizzard No More!” was called for 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, March 3, at The Middle East, Lapidus said. There was to be food and drink, a raffle, DJ and dancing as a free, private celebration sponsored by the businesses of the CSBA. Up to 500 would be invited in, she said.
Mayor David Maher’s office believed the Cambridge Local First organization was preparing a winter-recovery effort as well, but representatives didn’t answer an email seeking comment.