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For some businesses, a wild winter means padded pocketbooks

FREDERICK — When vehicles slid off roads in a surprise Christmas Eve snowfall, traffic snarled, making for upset motorists and many calls for tow trucks.

Heavy snow is big business for many enterprises, and a winter without a lot of the white stuff, such as in early 2012, can be a bummer for business owners.

“We’ve already had more snow than all of last year winter,” said Earle Arnold, owner of 40 West Autocare and Towing in Frederick.

“With snow comes a lot of sliding off the road with people driving too fast and running into guardrails and having accidents,” and that means more calls to Arnold’s business, he said.

Accuweather meteorologists’ forecast of above-normal snow this winter for the I-95 cities — including Boston, New York City, Philadelphia and Washington — is good news for businesses that rely on lots of precipitation to make a profit.

Normal seasonal snowfall for the Washington region is 14.7 inches, according to Accuweather meteorologist Meghan Evans.

John Bare welcomes predictions of a “snowmageddon” this winter, the businessman said.

“If it’s going to snow, bring it on,” said Bare, whose H.B. Duvall Inc. company sells tractor-driven snow blowers, salt spreaders, tire chains, and walk-behind snow blowers. “As a business, we’re hoping for a good winter.”

According to Forbes’ Investopedia, nearly 20 percent of the U.S. economy is directly affected by the weather, and the profitability and revenues of virtually every industry — agriculture, energy, entertainment, construction, travel and others — depend on the vagaries of temperature.

H.B. Duvall orders snow inventory in April for the following winter, and that means putting out money for equipment not knowing if it will sell, Bare said. Inventory that doesn’t sell is stored in a warehouse, “then we pray for snow the following year,” the businessman said.

Snow removal equipment is a niche business for Bare, whose company specializes in farm equipment and lawn and garden materials.

“You got to like it do it,” Bare said. “One winter you do great, and the next you do nothing.”

‘When it snows, I go’

During the winter of 2010, when the region had record snowfalls, Bare’s company sold “hundreds and hundreds” of tire chains to Allegheny Power for the electric utility company’s trucks, he said.

A lack of snow and cold is good for the customer who can spend less money on heating costs, but it’s bad for business, said Bob Roberson, manager of Southern States Cooperative on Buckeystown Pike in Frederick.

Warm temperatures in December 2011 translated into a 25-percent decline in home-heating oil sales at Southern States, but Roberson said he is looking forward to a good winter this year.

During the recent Christmas Eve snowfall, it seemed as if every truck pulling into Southern States had a plow attached and was filling up with diesel, Roberson said.

“We like it when it’s cold and nice, and (we do) not have the ice to deal with,” he said.

Balmy temperatures — such as the 64 degrees in the Washington metropolitan area during mid-winter last year, meant shovels, warm clothes and ice melts did not sell at the Southern States store in Frederick, manager David Stas said.

Because snow removal is only a small part of operations at All Mixed Up LLC, the company was busy with concrete work during last year’s unusually warm winter, business owner Chris Kokoskie said.

Snowfall Christmas Eve and during the week that followed was minimal, Kokoskie said, but the snow stuck around for a while, making for several busy days.

“I grew up in central Pennsylvania where snow is to be played in, not plowed,” Kokoskie said, “but here, when it snows, it has to be plowed, so when it snows, I go.”

A winter without snow keeps shovels and snowmelt on the shelves, said Denny Cline, an employee at Sunset Supply hardware store in Frederick.

Minimal snowfall last year “kind of hurt us,” Cline said, “but on the other hand, it takes too much work to get through a whole lot of snow.”

After 33 years in the towing business, Arnold said he knows Frederick’s trouble spots when it snows. They are Boyers Mill Road, Gas House Pike, Braddock Mountain near I-70, Gambrill Park Road and sections of U.S. 15, he said.

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