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Some businesses enduring cold, others thriving

Published: Sunday, March 2, 2014 5:40 a.m. CDT
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(Kyle Grillot – kgrillot@shawmedia.com)
A woman walks by a large snow pile in a Crystal Lake shopping mall parking lot. Some local business owners have seen fewer customers on brutal winter days. And there have been a lot of those this season.

This bitterly cold and snowy winter has been the best of times for some businesses, and either business as usual or the worst of times for others.

You’re not going to hear too many complaints from Black Diamond Plumbing and Mechanical or Althoff Industries – the Crystal Lake businesses have seen a surge in calls for broken furnaces and frozen pipes. Ditto for snowplow companies hired to keep parking lots clear.

As for other McHenry County businesses, they’re counting down the days to warmer weather like everyone else. And even the companies that are raking in extra money because of the snow and the cold have had to deal with the complications it brings.

Hell on wheels

Winter has presented challenges to Crystal Lake trucking company JA Frate Inc. Its livelihood depends on getting freight to clients on time, and when it’s not major snowstorms covering the roads, it’s below-zero temperatures interfering with the trucks, President Jill Dinsmore said.

“The challenge we face is balancing our driver safety with getting the customers’ freight delivered and making the judgment calls with that,” Dinsmore said. “Commerce has to run and customers need their freight, but we have to do it within safe measures.”

Dinsmore said she is proud of how the staff has endured the winter conditions, from the truckers braving the roads to the maintenance workers who keep the trucks working and dock workers who load them overnight without heat.

The weather is not hurting the business from a competitive standpoint, Dinsmore said. Trucking companies nationwide have had to struggle with cold, snow and ice, and a company in northern Illinois is better prepared because it’s used to it.

“At least we’ve had the experience and the history with it that the mid-Atlantic states don’t,” Dinsmore said.

Salt and coffee

For Bohn’s Ace Hardware in Woodstock, winter is a wash for home-improvement stores.

While shovels and salt fly off the shelves, people buy less of other things, Floor Manager Craig Pierce said.

“The salt and the shovels and anything that can move snow has been good, but on the same token, you’re not selling other things, like paint. People are too busy shoveling. The garden section goes down to nothing,” Pierce said.

Coffeeshops typically don’t mind winter – after all, few pleasures beat a hot beverage on a cold day. But customers may be a tad resistant to braving 10 inches of snow and a minus-50 wind chill to get their fix.

Business has been good in the post-holiday period, said Michael Shipley, managing partner of Conscious Cup Coffee in Crystal Lake and Cook Street Coffee in Barrington. But he said really brutal winter days can inhibit business, and there have been plenty of them.

“We’re doing well, we’re continuing to grow, but I think a lot of that is despite the weather. We would probably see even more [growth] if we didn’t see those negative-40 days,” Shipley said.

One decision Shipley is glad to have made is hiring Black Diamond last year to move the pipes from the exterior walls because of past freeze problems.

Someplace warm

Richard Doherty didn’t have complaints about the cold temperatures.

First of all, he talked to the Northwest Herald from Naples, Fla. And secondly, he’s president of Crystal Lake Travel Agency, and there has been quite the surge of people wanting to go anywhere warm.

“The economy has come back and our business grew 20 percent last year. But the weather has added to that, and we’re seeing a record number of people coming in. There are a lot more last-minute bookings than in previous years, up 15 to 18 percent,” Doherty said.

Of course, while the weather has proven good for business, it can cause issues when it comes to customers’ flights.

Doherty said the agency recommends that its clients get a hotel room at the airport the night before the flight, and make arrangements should they be delayed at their port of entry to the U.S. on the return flight.

Airports have been handling this winter pretty well, Doherty said, calling storms a day of chaos followed by getting flights going again.

“People overall have said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and people who normally wouldn’t take vacations to Mexico, the Caribbean or warm-weather destinations are doing it last-minute. They’ve had enough,” Doherty said.

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