Snowstorm a big hit' to merchants' bottom line
Sales drop upward of 80 percent, says retail group
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The biggest December snowstorm on record in Maryland put a major damper on the holiday shopping season, forcing many stores to close on the key Saturday before Christmas as customers were few and far between.
Sales were likely off from what was expected by 60 percent to 80 percent on Saturday, said Thomas Saquella, president of the Maryland Retailers Association. Sunday's sales were off from projections, too, but probably not as much, he said.
"We took a big hit," Saquella said. "We went through the great recession, and now we're dealing with the great blizzard. Nobody ever said retailing is easy."
The organization had forecast a 1 percent to 1.5 percent gain in holiday sales for state retailers this year over last year. But the snowstorm could make it hard to see any uptick this year, Saquella said. Maryland retailers saw a 5 percent decline last year from 2007 as the economy nosedived, and there was a smaller drop in 2007 from '06.
Holiday sales are described by the industry as those occurring in November and December, the two months when retailers typically post about 20 percent of their revenues for the year.
"Quite frankly, I don't see how we can make [a gain this year]," Saquella said. "Even [Monday], it is not easy to get around. A lot of retailers will have extended hours. I would think there will be more promotions to drive customers into the stores. And we have a whole week after Christmas, but it's still going to be hard."
To help offset the snowstorm's toll, executives with Borders said its bookstores in Maryland will remain open until midnight Monday through Wednesday.
Arundel Mills in Hanover closed at 2 p.m. on Saturday, said Wendy Ellis, director of mall marketing and business development. But the crowds visiting stores such as Neiman Marcus Last Call and the new Legos store were huge on both Sunday and Monday, she said.
"With the kids out of school and government workers off, it's like having another weekend day," Ellis said of Monday.
The mall had a strong week before the storm, and officials expect more heavy traffic this week that could make up for Saturday, she said.
The 20.5 inches of snow Saturday at Baltimore-Washington International Marshall Airport in Linthicum smashed the old December single-day record of 11.5 inches set in 1932, the National Weather Service reported Monday. That was also the fifth largest daily snowfall ever at BWI Marshall since record-keeping began there in 1893.
December single-day records of 16 inches at Washington Dulles International Airport and 15 inches at Reagan Washington National Airport, both in Virginia, were also set, according to the weather service. The snowfall at National Airport was the third most for one day since records started there in 1884.
While mall traffic plummeted over the weekend, online shopping likely saw a big boost, said Peter Morici, a professor at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, College Park, and former chief economist at the U.S. International Trade Commission.
"Homebound shoppers have fewer choices because deeply discounted items on sales racks at the brick-and-mortar stores are often not available online," Morici said. "Supplies of online bargains will run out more quickly."
Since the deadline has passed for inexpensive shipping options, online shoppers will be forced to select express shipping, proving a bonanza for online retailers, he said. Express shippers such as UPS and FedEx will also benefit, Morici said.
Some businesses in Maryland were closed Monday, as workers continued to clear snow and ice from streets and parking lots. BWI Marshall closed Saturday, and numerous flights continued to be delayed Monday.