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Snow casts a chill on Savannah area businesses

  • While many areas of Savannah were mostly cleared of ice and snow by Friday afternoon, River Street was still a “skating rink,” as one area businesses person described it. (Katie Nussbaum/Savannah Morning News)
  • Looking south from the top of the DeSoto hotel on Wednesday, snow blankets Harris Street and Madison Square. The winter weather did force a few cancellations, but the downtown hotel was largely business as usual providing meals and accommodations for guests and staff. (Photo by Dusty Grove/courtesy of the DeSoto hotel)
  • Parker’s on Pooler Parkway employee David James sweeps snow from cars on Wednesday. Parker’s was one of the few businesses along the Parkway that were open early in the day. Parker’s remained open until 2 p.m. on Wednesday. (DeAnn Komanecky/Savannah Morning News)

Savannah’s had its share of recent weather-related misery from hurricane season to this week’s snow and ice fall.

September’s visit from Hurricane Irma disrupted local businesses and the area saw a 6 percent drop in retail sales.

The economic impacts from the rare wintry blast, however, are unlike effects from Irma, according to economist Michael Toma, director of Armstrong State University’s Center for Regional Analysis.

“There is one notable difference,” Toma said. “People sheltered in place. There was not a wholesale exit.”

Toma said people staying at home, keeps dollars from “leaking” out of the county.

“It creates what economists call pent-up demand,” Toma said. “That will be unleashed and you may see (spending increases) as people feel more comfortable getting out and driving.”

In other words, the grocery stores are likely to busy this for a few days as people restock their pantries, Toma said.

People who were unable to work their usual shifts will take about a 10 percent hit on their monthly income, Toma said.

That figure is based on losing two shifts of work, or 16 hours. Many employees may have lost fewer hours, Toma noted.

“There’s lots of flexibility there, can they recover with overtime?” Toma said.

For the hospitality and restaurant industry, some lost dollars may also return.

“For hospitality, some visitors (who cancelled) may come back in the future,” Toma said. “That’s just personal preference.”

Local restaurants may recoup some benefit from those who may decide the grocery store and cooking are too much trouble.

Toma cautions any snow impacts won’t be deep.

“It would be wise not to overestimate any effect on the regional economy,” Toma said.

Workers feel the pinch

While the overall impact might not be as deep as Hurricane Matthew and Irma, Savannah’s hospitality industry workers are likely among the hardest hit, said Michael Owens, president and CEO of the Tourism Leadership Council.

“(Industry) employees always get the negative effect when the city shuts down and when you shut down public transit that’s really the lifeblood for a lot of workers,” Owens said, adding that restaurant and retail shops will also take a hit with many of them having closed their doors for two or three days.

Owens said the hotels in the city remained operational with many of them housing workers in order to keep them off the icy road, although some had limited services or menus. He said one interesting logistical challenge was that due to many hotels using the same Hilton Head Island-based laundry service clean linens had dwindled but, overall, guests and workers banded together to make the best of the usual winter weather.

“I was downtown for two days and I saw people helping other people and businesses helping each other. Really everybody comes together and makes the best of it,” he said.

Downtown at the DeSoto hotel, Miranda Marchant, marketing and communications manager, said the storm did result in a few cancellations but they also received several walk-ins.

“Many people were stuck on the highway and decided to stay over in Savannah due to the conditions. We were so glad we had the flexibility to take in these folks and get them out of harm’s way,” she said.

The hotel, which kept its doors open to guests, locals and staff during Savannah’s last weather fiasco, Hurricane Irma, always strives to deliver southern hospitality while keeping safety as their top priority, Marchant said.

“Inclement weather or not, we want people to still feel like they are having a vacation and that their comfort and happiness is our utmost priority,” she said.

During the storm, Marchant said staff took on various roles with valet attendants working as bell hops, front desk representatives filling in at the bar and the managing director pitching in to help serve the crowds in Edgar’s Proof &Provision.

“We are also very fortunate to be able to house staff in order to keep them off of the roads when it wasn’t safe to drive. That is something not many industries have the ability to provide. We encouraged our staff to make the best decision with regards to travel during the icy conditions, but when they came trickling in on Thursday, it was definitely a welcome sight,” she said.

Marchant said the hotel has become somewhat of a safe haven for both locals and guests during the past hurricanes and now the winter storm is providing a place for people to get a warm meal and enjoy some camaraderie during a time when they’re unable to venture out in the city.

“We look forward to that tradition continuing,” she said.

Keeping doors open

Several other area businesses braved the elements and stayed open as long as possible Wednesday, including Rise Biscuits and Donuts and Leopold’s Ice Cream along with area Parker’s stores, which began monitoring the storm before it hit.

“Our plan is always to keep as many stores open for as long as possible in order to serve our customers and to make sure they have necessities like gas, food, water, batteries, flashlights and other essential items. At the same time, we have a responsibility to keep our employees safe,” said Greg Parker, president and CEO of Parker’s.

Due to unsafe conditions on the roads, stores outside of Statesboro, Lyons and Metter closed at 2 p.m. on Wednesday to ensure that employees had ample time to get home ahead of icy road conditions and had time to safely get back to work the next day, Parker said.

With employees traveling from all over coastal Georgia and South Carolina, the company has been working to be as flexible as possible and allow anyone who needed to call out to take paid time off along with finding scheduling opportunities for employees to make up missed hours.

“Because we have 51 stores in Georgia and South Carolina, we are able to find working opportunities for our employees at different locations other than their home store,” Parker said.

During times like the winter storm, Parker said the company focuses on serving customers and keeping employees safe, not on lost revenue and remain committed to the community by not overcharging or price gouging.

“We feel a strong responsibility to help our customers during their time of need. We’re deeply grateful for the support of our customers throughout the year and want to do everything we can to be there for them when they need us most,” he said.

River Street

River Street and its stone ramps were still a “skating rink,” as of Friday afternoon, delaying reopening for a number of businesses.

Local restaurant group Live Oak Restaurants has four River Street locations that have all been closed for three days.

Plans as of Friday were to open those locations on Saturday. River Street locations include Spankys, Tubby’s, Fiddler’s Crab House and Dub’s. The group is also a part owner of the River House Restaurant.

Chelsea Williams, director of development for the Live Oak group, said closing for three days is rough.

“Having several days with no revenue is tough on us as business, but it’s harder on our staff that relies on tips or tips and a wage,” Williams said.

There are about 175 employees at the River Street locations, Williams said.

“It’s hard,” Williams said. “You feel helpless.”

Williams said all the staff was anxious to get back to work.

“You can’t get those hours back (for them),” Williams said.

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