January 31, 2012

Wichita’s warm, dry January is boon to some businesses, bane to others

The winter has felt good to golfers and shoppers and people who have needed work outside.

The winter has felt good to golfers and shoppers and people who have needed work outside.

But people who rely on a true winter to make a living are not feeling the warmth.

“In the car-wash industry, we need snow and slush and salt on the roads to get cars dirty,” Duane Steven of Little Joe’s Car Wash said Tuesday. “It’s nice weather, but it hurts our employees.

“Normally, we double our staff, and we haven’t hired at all this winter. We just send people home when there’s no cars.”

There hasn’t even been any rain, Steven pointed out. The January that ended Tuesday tied for the seventh-driest January on record and it had the 10th-highest average temperature.

“We’ve been praying for snow,” said Lloyd Hitchcock, owner of Old Town Snow Removal.

Normally he would be clearing parking lots up and down West Street and at Mid-Continent Airport. Now he’s doing some remodeling on houses instead.

“I do a little bit of everything, but I really do depend on the snow work to keep me flowing through the year,” Hitchcock said. “I can’t work none of my employees, nothing. … That’s six to eight guys, families, that it hurts.”

Some get a boost

Some businesses that have seen one part of their merchandising fall off this winter because of the weather have seen a demand for other items pick up the slack.

At Warming Trends, home of crackling fireplaces, “it has been quiet, very quiet,” Jeannie Herpolsheimer said. “The funny thing is the barbecue side of our business has picked up.”

Gene Cook of Benton, who sells firewood mainly to people who burn it for ambience and not to heat the house, said his sales are down 14 percent.

“The upside is our smoking woods – we handle a full line of grilling, smoking, cooking and barbecuing woods – they have really spiked,” Cook said. “Rather than digging out of a snowdrift on New Year’s Day, these guys are standing outside grilling something.”

These guys – and gals – are also outside going to the zoo, doing work on the house and shopping.

At the Augusta Ace Home Center hardware store, “Our traffic is up for the month, and our sales are up over last year,” said owner Pat Herian. “I think people are more motivated to do anything, even in the house, when it’s not so bitterly cold to drive anywhere.”

The Sedgwick County Zoo was able to make its budget for 2011 with a boost in attendance during a mellow December, said Christan Baumer, marketing and public relations manager for the zoo.

“We’re loving it,” she said, adding that admission on this first day of February – when the temperature is forecast to top 60 – is a discounted $2.50.

Municipal golf courses have seen an increase of 3,000 rounds of golf, up more than 100 percent, this January over last, said Troy Hendricks at Auburn Hills in west Wichita.

“Business has been fantastic,” agreed Chris Tuohey at Sand Creek Station in Newton. “Between Christmas and New Year’s, we had 800 rounds.”

The warm weather has been a boost for some other businesses that might otherwise get the cold shoulder.

Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt is getting ready to ditch its winter hours, said Heather Hawk of the store at 37th and Rock Road. “There’s really no point” of closing an hour early, she said. “Especially on the nicer days, our sales are up a lot.”

Even though housing construction is down, Wess Galyon of the Wichita Area Builders Association is seeing basements go in and frames of houses go up in new subdivisions. Once workers get a house boxed in and get some heat turned on, they’re able to continue their work inside no matter what the weather, he said.

Dry spell may be over

Allergist Thomas Scott did not see the drop in patients he normally gets in January – usually his slowest month of the year. Instead, pollens that would normally show up in February seemed to already be at work. The dryness of the air has made things worse, Scott said, because rain would wash pollen out of the air.

But the long pattern of dryness may be about to end, said Eric Schminke of the National Weather Service in Wichita. There’s a very good chance that rain will start Thursday evening “in earnest,” Schminke said, and we may hear some thunder.

The rain is forecast to continue Friday with some tapering possible in the afternoon, and snow possibly joining in around 2 to 4 a.m. Saturday. There’s also a small window for straight snow around daybreak that day, but a high of 41 shouldn’t allow any accumulation, Schminke said.

That just won’t do for a seasonal business.

“It takes 3 to 4 inches of snow before snow companies are allowed to push snow,” said Hitchcock of Old Town Snow Removal.

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