Snow storm: East Coast races to save Christmas (shopping)

Buried by a major snow storm, East Coast cities are mobilizing all their resources to clear streets for Christmas shopping.

By , Staff writer

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    Workers shovel snow along a walkway at the open but deserted Short Pump Mall in Richmond, Va., Saturday, during a winter storm that hit the East Coast.
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Battalions of salt trucks and snowplows maneuvered through an East Coast snow storm this morning with one mission: Save Christmas! (Or at least the Christmas shopping season.)

The prospect of socked-in consumers playing in the snow instead of braving slippery roads to head to the mall helped to mobilize civic leaders in places like New York and Washington, which were facing more than one foot of snow at perhaps the most critical time for beleaguered retailers trying to weather something altogether more severe – a major recession.

With the National Weather Service warning of “extremely treacherous travel conditions” across much of the mid-Atlantic and New England, city leaders promised a counterattack.

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“All indications are this will be a major storm – perhaps the biggest we’ve seen in several years,” said Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty, who dispatched 330 trucks Saturday morning to scrape and salt the streets. “We are going to throw everything we have at it to keep the District open for business on this busy preholiday weekend.”

The early-season storm is the biggest in at least six years to hit Washington, and it augurs a snowy season for usually snow-bereft mid-Atlantic and Southern states.

Outlet malls affected most

That’s good news for ski areas and school kids, but couldn’t have come at a worse time for outlet chain stores like Bon-Ton, DSW Shoe Warehouse, and Kohl’s, Inc., where entrances are often exposed to the weather, according to the Boston Globe.

“If consumers venture out in the storm, they will likely travel to malls, where they can shop indoors and have numerous retail options,’’ wrote Richard Jaffe, an analyst for the investment banking firm Stifel Nicolaus, to investors.

Opinions about the ultimate impact of the storm on the shopping season are mixed. For one thing, socked-in consumers may well venture online, extending the so-called “Cyber Monday” phenomenon. And overall sales are still expected to go up by 1 to 2 percent over last year, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group. (See the report here.)

And weather-wise, last year posed even broader problems for the pre-Christmas shopping season. Some 60 percent of the country saw snow in the holiday run-up, contributing to the worst holiday shopping season since 1969. Today’s storm, though massive, will blanket a much narrower band of the country, Bill Kirk, CEO of Weather Trends International, told ABC News.

“We are losing one day in one region versus last year when we probably lost seven days over many regions,” Mr. Kirk said.

2,000 plows in NYC to save Christmas

Still, New York, for one, rallied to keep the streets clear for shoppers as snow began blanketing the city in earnest. Facing a possibly debilitating 20 inches, the city is expected to activate all 350 salt spreaders and 2,000 snowplows, and could put a good dent in its stockpile of 250,000 tons of rock salt.

“Cold weather is here,” said an upbeat New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Hopefully, we’ll have a little bit of a white Christmas.”

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