For good and bad, wintry mix impacts commerce

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - By Jonathan Hardison

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Business owners across central Alabama are starting to dig out from days of being closed because of mother nature. So how hard did she hit their bottom lines?

From a bottom-line perspective this winter storm made every city government a loser because they're still spending lots of money on overtime to get the roads clear and keep emergency services going. And because for a few days, those shoppers weren't paying sales tax at local stores like the Galleria in Hoover.

"That is a major cost, you're absolutely right," Hoover Mayor Tony Petelos said. "Sixty-five percent of our budget is sales tax-driven, and because it's such a high sales tax-driven economy, it costs us."

Petelos says he hasn't gotten a final figure on how much the storm will cost his city, but says compared to the storms in New England this week, this is just a bump in the road. But when it comes to businesses, the difference between winning and losing in this storm was all about location, service, and a little luck.

When the snow started, Zoe's Kitchen in Homewood came to a dead stop.     

"Right when it started to hit, we noticed Homewood became desolate, like a ghost town," said Gregory Wolfe, manager at the Zoe's Kitchen in SoHo. "We shut it down then."

That shut-down lasted all the way through Monday and into Tuesday morning, when Gregory Wolfe walked in and knew his store had missed some meals. "Our phone was still ringing off the hook, even though we were closed, had a lot of missed calls," Wolfe said. But Zoe's didn't lose any money on supplies, a problem that a lot of restaurants face when they face an unexpected shutdown.

"We get our food daily, so the vendors were closed down so we didn't get our trucks that day, so nothing went bad on our end," Wolfe said.

Some products you can wait till the next day to buy, a meal isn't one of them so Zoe's may have lost sales, but it wasn't paying its hourly workers that day, and by Tuesday at lunch-time, all of its customers were back inside making up for lost time.

"It really didn't affect the business too much," Wolfe said. "The only thing that really affected us was all the school closings and parents not being able to be at work and out to lunch like they normally are."

Owner David Gorji at Highland Package Store lives within walking distance of his store and knew if he stayed open Sunday night and Monday, it would be worth his while.

"It was busy until 2am in the morning," Gorji said. "We managed to keep open and took care of the customers. The state store was closed, that helped a lot, the other thing is being in the center of the community, by being next to Western, so obviously they pick up some food and some drinks. That helped. It worked out together."

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