Cold Winter Warriors Prepare

In Jack Gurnon's hardware store, memories of last year's huge snowbanks push up shovel sales

SUMMONING up memories of last year's record 96 inches of snow, a sign in the Charles Street Supply hardware store here reads: ``Remember Last Winter? Need We Say More?''

Whether Old Man Winter 1994-95 brings the Northeast another record snow this year, as the folksy ``Old Farmer's Almanac'' predicts, or near-normal temperatures and less snow than average, as Washington's National Weather Service says, many shoppers on Boston's tony Charles Street aren't taking any chances with Mother Nature.

Take John Adams of Scituate, R.I., who just got back from Maine. He saw snow in the mountains, felt a chill in the air, and panicked. ``I am not looking forward to shoveling out that car,'' he says. ``I don't even remember how many times I did it last year - at least a dozen.''

But while Mr. Adams dreads shoveling, he seems pleased with his new toys: grain shovels. ``I got a couple of extras. I can put double the snow in the grain shovel as the snow shovel,'' he says. On second thought, his wife and daughters won't want to help out, he admits dejectedly.

Jack Gurnon, Charles Street Supply's vice president, says he sold his first snow shovel back in August, when most people were still buying swimsuits. And for the past three weeks, shovels have been snatched up like hot cakes. ``People tell me: `I'm not going to get caught this winter,' or `Someone stole mine last year.' ''

Last year was a fluke, Mr. Gurnon says. ``Business was two to three times normal. I remember 15 people holding shovels and scrapers throwing $20 bills at me - I hadn't seen that since Hurricane Bob in 1991. When rock salt was hard to come by, we started getting mystery calls: `I'm Joe, a distributor in New Jersey; you got cash, we got salt.' It was almost a black market.''

To be ready this year, Gurnon is stockpiling snow shovels, rock salt, snow blowers, brushes, scrapers, wiper fluid, electric heater cables for roof gutters, ice chisels, jumper cables, roof rakes, ice-melting pellets, and sand - all in historic proportions. For kids, he has toboggans, sleds, and plastic saucers.

With visions of last year's 10-foot snowbanks, cars buried up to their antennas, and table-sized ice blocks on roofs dancing in their heads, browsers on Boston's Beacon Hill are getting prepared like never before.

Susan Fernandez, of Marshfield, Mass., says she learned the value of a good shovel the hard way. A physician's assistant intern last year, she worked at three hospitals in Boston, Worcester, and Providence on six-week rotations at 6 a.m. ``The roads weren't plowed, and it took me three hours to go one way. I was always late,'' she says.

By comparison, this year's commute to Boston will be a cinch. ``My husband and I bought two portable shovels for each car and two big ones for the house,'' Ms. Fernandez explains. ``We bought wool coats, and we're looking into plowing for the driveway. I've never questioned living in New England until last winter. I'm trying to be cautiously optimistic.''

Then there's Charles Warren of Boston, a skier who spends six weeks in Vermont every winter. Last year ``made me gung-ho,'' he says. Is he referring to fun at the Sugarbush Mountain ski resort or winter-proofing his home? It's hard to tell. ``I've reinstalled gutters, repaired mortar between the bricks, caulked the windows, and bought salt for the sidewalk,'' he says enthusiastically.

But as Lewis Aries of Easton, Mass., says, the thought for many people of heavy snow, frigid temperatures, and biting wind conjures up visions of shivering, not schussing. ``I don't think winter is funny for those without a few bucks in their pocket. You go up to rural New Hampshire or Vermont and see what tough times really are.''

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