Wet weather can boost local businesses | TheUnion.com

Wet weather can boost local businesses

At Hills Flat Lumber, the first few storms to hit Nevada County in the fall mean it’s time to make sure the hardware store is stocked with the items locals look to buy when it’s wet outside, including tarps, roof-repair supplies and space heaters.

One item the store hasn’t had to order many of this year is snow shovels, said floor supervisor Steve Loomis — it has plenty that went unsold during last year’s dry, mild winter.

“We still have a large inventory of snow-related items,” Loomis said.

Years of crippling drought in California have resulted in several winters with little rain or snow. This winter, however, experts are predicting the return of wet weather, thanks to a powerful El Niño weather pattern.

The odds of El Niño hitting California are currently around 95 percent, according to a recent monthly update issued by the U.S. Climate Prediction Center, though it’s unclear just how much rain or snow the weather pattern would drop on Northern California.

If the predictions hold true, the wet weather won’t just be welcomed at the state’s parched lakes, rivers and reservoirs, and its suffering ski resorts. For many local businesses, wet weather can be a boon — one they haven’t experienced much over the past couple of years.

Rolly’s Body Shop on Sutton Way in Grass Valley is just one business that has felt the impact of the drought, said owner Lorin Hembree. Rain and snow make for slippery roadways and unstable tree branches — all things that keep auto body shop workers busy repairing damage to cars.

“Any rain, we definitely see an increase in business,” Hembree said. “It just depends on the duration and how heavy the storm was.”

Hembree said the shop used to rely on busy winter months to make up for slower months in the spring and summer; as winter business has dried up, the company has had to make some adjustments, including not replacing an employee who moved on from the business.

Now, she said, any extra winter business the shop gets “is just an added bonus.”

Tom Dines, the owner of Tom’s Snowmobiles & Service in Sierra City, said he’s also made adjustments to help the business weather the lack of snow over the past few years. Around 2008, in the midst of the economic recession, he made the decision to turn more attention to manufacturing parts for snowmobiles, which the company ships globally, in addition to selling the vehicles.

That decision not only helped his business survive the economic downturn, but its helped steady it during the past few years of scant snowfall, Dines said.

Dines said it does seem as though there’s increased anticipation among outdoor enthusiasts for a snowy winter.

He said it appears many customers are thinking, “we’re gonna have snow, I could go out and ride, so something that maybe I’ve held off from purchasing last year, that would be something I might step up and make the purchase this year,” Dines said.

At B&C True Value, co-owner Greg Fowler said he hasn’t noticed an influx of customers preparing for a potentially soggy winter.

He said the business has to walk a fine line when it comes to preparing for the season, one that involves keeping a close eye on the forecast.

The store doesn’t want to overstock items that won’t sell if wet weather predictions don’t come to fruition, but needs to have items available in case they do.

“Any weather-related incident, whether it be a power outage or snow, it’s an immediate impact,” Fowler said. “You can’t be waiting for your three- or five-day supply line to get to you when people are ready now.”

Though winter weather can mean increased sales of products like tarps, kindling and chimney brushes, it’s “a double-edged sword,” Fowler said.

When customers come into the store seeking those products, they’re less likely to grab items from other aisles.

“If someone’s out dealing with emergencies, they’re not going to think about painting the living room,” Fowler said.

Fowler is reluctant to bank on early forecast predictions of rain — and he’s not the only one.

Todd Tripp, who owns Tripp’s Autobody & Paint Shop and said rain and snow storms can increase the number of tows the company gets called to do from about one a day to five a day, isn’t putting too much stock in predictions of a powerful El Niño.

“If it happens, it happens,” Tripp said.

Hembree echoed those thoughts, pointing out that many thought the area would see more wet weather last year than it actually did — although she called the few days of rain Nevada County has seen over the past several weeks a “good start.”

“Unfortunately, we can’t predict (the weather), but we can hope for what they’re predicting,” Hembree said.

To contact Staff Writer Emily Lavin, email elavin@theunion.com or call 530-477-4230.

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