Warm days leave retail stores cold

While some Yalies are likely mourning the recent bout of cold weather, local retailers are hoping to see their sales warm up now that winter is here in earnest.

Across the Northeast, a balmy winter has left clothing stores with racks full of heavy jackets and cold weather accessories. On Jan. 6, the mercury in New York City’s Central Park hit 72 degrees. In New Haven, temperatures that day soared to a record 71 degrees.

At the Yale Bookstore, there are sweatshirts on the shelves. Warm weather has led cold-weather apparel to remain on racks.
Christopher Young
At the Yale Bookstore, there are sweatshirts on the shelves. Warm weather has led cold-weather apparel to remain on racks.

Disappointing holiday season sales at several national retailers, including the Gap, have been blamed on the unseasonably warm weather, which has also posed a challenge for local clothing stores. The stores typically order inventory far in advance of the cold weather season.

January’s temperate weather has forced local merchants like outdoors outfitter Trailblazer to remain flexible with their merchandise and sales, store manager Craig Aaker said.

“I think there’s a degree to which warm weather makes it hard to sell down jackets and heavy warm stuff,” he said. “But wintertime around here is also very style-driven, and people look forward to it being winter so they can wear their North Face jacket down the street, no matter how warm it is.”

But that doesn’t mean it’s been business as usual for Elm City vendors. New Haven retailers have had to tweak their business plans in order to prosper in this year’s surprisingly warm climate, Town Green Special Services District Executive Director Scott Healy said.

“We haven’t heard reports from numerous retailers about [a drop in sales],” he said. “I think that the smaller retailers have succeeded in adjusting to some of the weather oddities this season.”

But the mild winter may be helping some local businesses by boosting foot traffic in area retail districts, Aaker said. Whereas in winters past, New Haven denizens have had to fight snow and wind just to walk to Starbucks, this January’s warm weather may encourage more shoppers to explore the city’s retail districts on foot.

“You have to think that the more mild it is in such an outdoor shopping environment, the more traffic you’ll have for longer,” Aaker said. “Because people are still walking around town and it’s not freezing to walk up and down Temple Street, retail, in general, doesn’t seem to be hurt too bad.”

The key to surviving the thaw has been to remain flexible, Aaker said. While what Aaker calls the “Gosh, I’m cold” accessories have stuck close to the store shelf, Trailblazer has had the chance to push some of its other products, such as its running gear. This strategy can work particularly well for small local retailers, Healy said.

“National trends have a larger effect on national chains that have to buy inventories nationwide,” Healy said. “The smaller retailers are more nimble and able to adjust their inventories according to demand.”

Still, Aaker said, this year’s warm weather will not influence Trailblazer’s buying for next year, which he said begins around this time.

“You can’t really base orders for next year on how the weather was this year, because that’s how you get caught with your pants down,” he said. “You look at longer term trends and you try to be prepared.”

Long-term trends? Like, say, climate change?

“That I can’t say,” Aaker said with a chuckle.

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