Icy roads put a chill on holiday sales

Many Ashland businesses had strong holiday sales during the last few weeks of December, but struggled to make up losses caused by a snowstorm early in the month that left streets and sidewalks coated in ice for days.

"We didn't have as robust a December as we normally do with the difficulty people had getting downtown," said FlowerTyme owner Lou Ann David. "That put a bit of a damper on the first part of the month. In the last two weeks, people really stepped up. Our sales figures are down for the month, though. It's hard to make that up."

A storm that hit on Dec. 6 left Ashland coated with snow that quickly turned to ice on roads and sidewalks. The ice remained stubbornly in place for several days.

Although sales took a hit in December, David said that 2013 overall was a good year. She continued to operate FlowerTyme, a floral and gift shop, while also opening a new home decor and gift shop downtown called Manzanita.

"People had very positive attitudes. Everyone seems like they're ready for things to be good and easier," she said. "People were receptive to the things we had for sale. We opened Manzanita across the street and people really supported that."

TreeHouse Books on the downtown Plaza dealt with not only the icy conditions, but a power outage that lasted for hours on one of the busiest shopping days.

Still, co-owner Jane Almquist said residents were aware of the importance of supporting local businesses and visited the bookstore.

"Generally I have a feeling that it went very well regardless of the storm," said Almquist, who was catching up with her accounting this week. "All of our customers came out in force after the streets were manageable. It was lively."

Cripple Creek Music Co. owner Garin Bakel said the shopping season was already shortened because of the smaller number of days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year.

Sales tumbled after the snowstorm, he said.

"We lost that week of sales. People were not out and about. We were trying to make up for that loss, but that's not really practical," he said. "Business did pick up after the snow cleared out."

Bakel faulted the city of Ashland for not clearing snow off the streets before it compacted and froze.

City of Ashland officials said street workers began plowing and sanding the day of the storm, but freezing conditions turned the snow to ice, making the snowplows ineffective. Pumice cinder rock used to coat slippery streets froze in truck beds and wouldn't dump out.

Crews tried to use a snow grader to break up the ice without success.

Compounding the problem, many people abandoned vehicles in the streets or became ensnared in collisions.

Conny Shadle, owner of the Bug A Boo children's store downtown, said the weather seemed to push more people to shop online — to the detriment of brick-and-mortar shops.

She said she appreciated the customers who did support local shops, including Bug A Boo.

At Paddington Station, co-owner Pam Hammond said the icy roads created a hardship for employees who couldn't make it to work, employees who could and had to pick up the slack, and customers.

But everyone at Paddington Station pulled together to make December a success, she said.

The store stayed open until 9 p.m. to accommodate evening shoppers, she said.

"We had an awesome December, but it was a bit of a nail-biter, too," Hammond said. "There were so many stresses early in the month. But we came together as a team to make the last two weeks of December work for us. It was a full-court press."

While the early December snow and ice dampened sales at many businesses, Star Collision Center in between Ashland and Talent saw about 35 percent more vehicles than usual, said Manager Greg Hunt.

"It's not the way we want to get business, but it did give the business a jolt," he said.

Some owners of vehicles that were damaged but still drivable delayed bringing their vehicles in until after the holidays, Hunt said.

"They're still coming in," he said.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

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