When extreme weather hits, businesses must consider employee and customer safety. But those decisions, such as whether to remain open or how to safeguard their assets, affect business.
River City Music & Sound owner Jim Hively remembers the 2008 snowstorm that dumped 1½ feet of snow two weeks before Christmas. It wasn’t a minor event for his business.
“That was the worst Christmas in 20 years and right in the heart of Christmas,” Hively recalled. “Nobody could get around for a week.”
River City Music & Sound, 13215 S.E. Mill Plain Blvd., in Vancouver, closed for two days late last week after a winter storm brought frigid temperatures and freezing rain.
“I think most everybody just decided it was the thing to do,” Hively said.
Hively considered his own safety, along with the safety of his customers. Despite having all-wheel-drive vehicles, Hively said ice is the worst.
Because the storm was so close to Christmas, Hively doesn’t believe his shop missed out on much holiday-driven business, he said.
“Most people by that time have done their shopping already,” he said. “But if it happened a week before that, it would have been a bigger deal.”
For local restaurants, it may have had a more noticeable impact.
“It’s definitely an interruption to everyday business,” said Jason Fish, co-owner of Main Event Sports Grill and Piehole Pizza in Vancouver and 3 Sheets at the Harbor in Portland. “We would choose to be open every day if we could.”
But there are times when Fish has to call it and shut down his restaurants early for the safety of his employees and customers.
Fish said, generally, if one of his restaurants must close unexpectedly for weather, sales drop by about 50 percent of what he would expect to make on a normal day. “If you’re lucky,” he added.
Last week, he was able to keep his Hayden Island restaurant open because several staff members there had all-wheel-drive vehicles and felt comfortable getting to work.
“We did a fair amount of business just with the residents,” Fish said. For the residents on the island, there was camaraderie there.
Restaurants, Fish reiterated, are gathering places. When many people were without power last week, his Main Event Sports Grill at 3200 S.E. 164th Ave., was able to stay open and feed some of those people.
In Mark Matthias’ experience, when weather is bad, people don’t come in; they stay home and err on the side of caution. This was the case for Matthias’s Beaches Restaurant and Bar last week.
At the same time, a number of staff also can’t make it in, so businesses have to run a scaled-down operation.
This past week, Beaches, 1919 S.E. Columbia River Drive in Vancouver, was open but with fewer staff members and guests, Matthias said.
“As soon as the news reports come on, you know that you’re just going to scale it down very quickly,” he said.
Problems were exacerbated last week because of the holiday. During the holiday season, many large parties and families gather at restaurants.
“Those all cancel,” Matthias said.
“It’s kind of an expectation each year that you’re going to go through this,” he added.
But the problems aren’t limited to closures, staffing and cancellations.
“This time of year, when you have inclement weather events, whether it’s snow, ice, high winds, we’re always faced with damage control — frozen pipes, broken pipes or just general power outages — all those things that create lost revenue,” said Ed Casey, chief executive for Burgerville.
For his chain of restaurants, power outages mean food needs to be moved to receive proper refrigeration.
“This year has been particularly challenging,” Casey said. “It’s been quite a bit more than we’ve ever seen, at least in a short period of time.”
There are several Burgerville restaurants that have been without power off and on since Thursday morning, he said. He’s also seen broken water pipes and heating systems that couldn’t keep up with the frigid temperatures.
“We had to close a couple of stores that just had no heat,” Casey said.
Like Fish, Casey wants his restaurants to be open, if possible, for folks who lose power and have nowhere to go.
Concerned for employee safety, Burgerville also shut down curbside service, so employees weren’t walking in icy parking lots. Landscaping companies came out to de-ice drive-thrus.
In this busy season for restaurants, Casey estimates his have probably lost $300,000 in revenue compared with a normal holiday season.
Burgerville hasn’t lost any food yet due to spoilage, but Casey is worried about the next 24 hours.
For Casey — like most who run a business — inclement weather is a big problem when it happens.
“If you take the whole year, then it’s more of a big inconvenience,” he said. “There are certainly some revenue impacts, but we have some every year.”