July 22, 2014

Sales seem steady despite winter storms

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By Matt Sutkoski

Observer correspondent

It looks as if shoppers around Williston toughed out a pre-Christmas ice storm, bitter cold in January and a Valentine’s Day snowstorm. Anecdotally, at least, retail sales did better locally than in much of the rest of the nation.

The U.S. Commerce Department reported last week retail sales across the nation declined by 0.4 percent in January, following a tenth of a percent decline in December.

In Vermont, and Williston in particular, hard numbers on sales are tough to come by, but there’s no sense of doom regarding sales, and local tax revenue.

“We were still busy,” said Joseph Emmons, co-owner of Superb Cupcakes in the Taft Corners Shopping Center. “If you want it, you want it. Most of us who live here deal with the snow.”

For the three-month period ending Dec. 31, which encompasses the Christmas shopping season, Williston’s local sales tax revenue came to $662,262, a little bit below expectations, said Williston Town Finance Director Susan Lamb. For comparison, Williston collected $705,918 in sales tax revenue during the final three months of 2012.

“We’re not overly concerned at this point,” Lamb said. Sales tax revenue was relatively strong in the late summer and early fall. Also, Williston collected $83,926 in rooms and meals tax revenue for the period Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, which was a little above projections.

There could be any number of reasons why sales tax revenue declined as 2013 closed, Lamb said. Weather, particularly the pre-Christmas ice storm, could be one factor, she said. Other influences could be the opening of a Walmart in St. Albans, which possibly means fewer shoppers in Williston from Franklin County. Or people could have been worried about the economy, or shopped online more than they have in the past, Lamb said.

At Williston’s Buds and Roses flower shop, co-owner Heather Hutchins said wintry weather didn’t hurt business, but did sometimes force some scheduling changes.

A snowstorm struck on the all-important Valentine’s Day, but things went smoothly. There were no delivery or order cancellations but some customers, heeding forecasts of the coming storm, arranged for deliveries on Feb. 13 instead of Valentine’s Day, to ensure things went smoothly. Others waited until roads were clear and bought flowers after the storm had passed, Hutchins said.

However, Buds and Roses has a four-wheel drive delivery vehicle, and all flower deliveries that were scheduled on Valentine’s Day arrived as planned. Some deliveries were to have been made at schools, but the schools were closed because of the snow. Hutchins said her flower shop just tracked down the recipients at their homes.

Vermont Retail Association Executive Director Tasha Wallis said she has no statewide figures on how the winter weather affected sales, but she said she suspects there was no great overall effect. The December ice storm might have slowed pre-Christmas sales somewhat. However that slowdown might have been offset by the snows of February, which attracted hordes of skiers to Vermont resort towns, Wallis said.

One Williston business that benefited from the ice storm and the deep subzero cold of January is Williston Workwear. After two very mild winters, the harsh cold prompted a run on cold weather clothes and gear for people who work outdoors, such as construction workers, said co-owner Matt Cohen.

“This was by far our best winter,” Cohen said.

An item that sold particularly well at Williston Workwear was a boot called Icebugs. The boots come equipped with carbide studs that give great foot traction in icy conditions, like we had in December.

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