Cold temperatures create boom or bust for Eastern Iowa businesses

Business owners brace for continued severe weather forecast

Published: February 3 2014 | 6:30 pm - Updated: 29 March 2014 | 3:07 am in

Mother Nature's wrath this winter has either blessed or cursed Corridor businesses — it just depends on what you do.

January brought 11 days that were 15 degrees or below, 10 days with snowfalls and a polar vortex. And she's not done.

Tuesday and Wednesday will offer another winter weather advisory and threats of up to four inches of blowing snow that could limit visibility.

"It's probably the roughest winter we've had in several years, as far back as I can remember," said Marty Bradley, vice president of fixed route operations for Burlington Trailways bus line, noting three times more trips than usual — at least 30 — have been cancelled due to weather.

For the bus line, which serves seven states and has locations throughout Eastern Iowa, frozen batteries kept buses in the parking lots and dangerous blizzard-like conditions halted travel on other days.

Sandra Navalesi, owner Dulcinea boutique on Dubuque Street in Iowa City, said business has been "terrible" this winter, and the shop had to close a few days in January. Located in the central business district, the shop relies on the normally bustling foot traffic, but weather has dampened the number of people out for a stroll, she said.

"There's not a lot of people walking around because it is so cold. It's been painfully cold," she said.

But for some other companies, those temperatures couldn't be better.

"We are a weather-driven company," said Brad Nielson, co-owner of Fosters Heating and Air Conditioning in Marion. "When it’s hot, it’s good. When it's cold, it's even better."

Nielson said service calls for fixing or replacing furnaces are up 30 percent compared to Januaries in the past five years. Crews are on call 24-7, he said.

This past weekend, workers responded to 22 calls, compared to a dozen or fewer on a typical winter weekend, he said.

Quality Care of Coralville, which provides snow removal services in the winter, reports snow removal services were up 132 percent in January compared to January 2013.

"This has been an unusually busy January," said Geoff Wilming, a company vice president. "We haven't had any single event deliver an overwhelming quantity of snow, but frequent events that make conditions hazardous enough for us to respond."

But automobile dealers, on the other hand, appear to be facing a mixed bag.

The Los Angeles Times reported General Motors, Ford Motor Co., Toyota and Volkswagen saw substantial drops in sales. General Motors — one of the hardest hit with a 12 percent decline from January 2014 to the previous January — cited the extreme cold in the South, Midwest and Northeast as the root of the woes, according to the article.

Others, such as Nissan and Chrysler Group, reported positive sales, according to the Times report.

Closer to home, Solomon Hinz, sales manager at Zimmerman Auto Center in Cedar Rapids, said, "Our business has been good. The weather has affected us on given days, but the rest of the days have been great."

The Iowa Children's Museum, which is located in the Coral Ridge Mall in Coralville, typically thrives in poor conditions — that is, until the weather becomes too dangerous for families to leave the house, said Deb Dunkhase, Children's Museum executive director.

Those days this year have curbed attendance, she said, but the slightly more tolerably cold days have made up for it. The museum had a 9 percent increase in attendance in January compared to January 2013, she said.

"Because the weather has been so severe, even when it is really cold but still pretty nice, there are enough people that get cabin fever and just want to get out," she said.

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