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When cold is hot

A cold winter can be hard on car batteries and electric bills, but friendly to the pockets of apparel retailers.

Carolyn Worthington bundles up against the near-zero wind chill on North Charles Street downtown. (The Daily Record / Maximilian Franz)

And it’s not just practical parkas that get the sales. From button-down shirts to fur coats, the beneficiaries of a blustery season vary, especially when the temperature drops in the autumn months.

For Hampstead-based Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc., a cool autumn proved lucrative.

“We were out talking about how the cooler weather affected us positively at the end of the third quarter and into the end of November,” CEO R. Neal Black said in a phone interview Tuesday. “All kinds of cold-weather items got off to a good start.”

The company’s sales were up 6.3 percent in the third quarter of 2013, which ended Nov. 2, from one year before.

As early as Dec. 5, in a conference call with investors, Black was already saying the winter was looking good. In November, the company experienced a significant increase in total sales and comparable store sales,

That month, the average temperature in Baltimore was 44 degrees — not far from the average. But the coldest day in November 2013 had a high of 32 degrees and a low of 19, compared with highs of 41 and 46 on the coldest days of November 2012 and 2011 respectively.

“Generally customers anymore are shopping close to need and they have a short memory,” Black said Tuesday. “If they wake up one morning and it’s cold and they find the coat they have is inadequate, they’re in the market for a coat.”

And it’s not limited to coats, he said. Faced with cold weather, customers will also purchase basic clothing items for layering.

If it’s too cold, however, the weather can backfire.

“On a super cold day like today, in the short term it has a less-than-positive effect,” said Black. The reason? Customers would rather stay home than go out to shop.

And too late in the season, customers are less affected by weather, he said, because they choose to “tough it out.”

For local furrier Mano Swartz, a few cold days in October, November and December can remind consumers of their desires for luxury, not just their immediate needs.

“When it’s cold earlier, we’re busier through the year,” said Richard Swartz, co-owner of Mano Swartz. “If everything else is the same, we know we’ll do more business.”

Because a fur coat is a big purchase, customers tend to buy based on their expectations of the season ahead, he said.

It’s been a good season already for Swartz.

“We’ve sold so much stuff that I’m going to retire after the season and move to the Caribbean,” he said, jokingly.