Mild winter hurts Elm City retailers

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Photo by Diana Li.

While New Haven has enjoyed a warmer-than-average winter, some downtown businesses, especially those specializing in cold-weather gear, have been struggling.

The above-average temperatures have decreased demand for coats, boots and other winter gear, making business slower than usual for some stores, said employees of three Elm City shops. In response, they said, stores are bringing in spring items earlier than usual and holding clearance sales in an attempt to get rid of winter inventory.

“People haven’t had too much of an eye for warm winter gear, and it just hasn’t been necessary,” said Derek Humphrey, the manager of Trailblazer, an outdoor gear store on Elm Street. “Weather can have a big impact, especially in the Northeast.”

According to Humphrey, Trailblazer’s sales this winter are down about 30 to 35 percent from last season.

For Denali, a local outdoor store on Broadway across the street from Trailblazer, sales have also not met expectations. According to Denali key holder Chris Sciarappa, the store had expected a 10- to 15-percent increase in sales when winter began, but the warm weather has thwarted those gains.

Ann Johnson, the manager at Laila Rowe, an accessory store on Broadway, said the city’s weather patterns have a significant impact on the success of her business.

“Last February during that big snowstorm, we sold over a hundred pairs of boots in just a couple of days — we almost couldn’t keep up with it,” Johnson said. “Boy, that was fantastic. We sold boots, cold weather accessories, umbrellas … anything people needed to deal with the bad weather.”

According to Johnson, Laila Rowe’s business is particularly responsive to even small changes in the weather. She noticed a spike in sales of cold weather accessories last weekend, when there was a forecast of snow.

To compensate for slower sales, businesses have run promotions and marked down products. For Trailblazer, however, this approach has done little to boost sales, Humphrey said.

“We’ve run a number of promotions since the last week of November,” he said. “We have a different sale every week, but we haven’t seen sales increase a considerable amount.”

Similarly, Denali is marking down its winter clothes in an attempt to clear space for spring inventory, according to Sciarappa. Since the retail spring starts much earlier than the actual season, stores are already stocking up on warm weather apparel.

“Everyone wants spring stuff now, like scarves, so we’re still selling. We just still have winter inventory we need to get rid of,” Johnson said.

Some stores have not been experiencing a downturn in sales, however.

“Most people complain that the weather in the Northeast fluctuates a lot, and things have been the same as usual [for sales],” said Dominika Grzybko, assistant manager of Thom Brown, a footwear store on Broadway.

Five students interviewed all said they had noticed that this winter season has been warmer than usual, and so had made fewer purchases than they had anticipated.

“My parents in Greece have had more snow this winter than I’ve had here,” said Fil Lekkas ’14, originally from Athens. “I haven’t had a chance to even wear my winter shoes this year.”

Claire Zhang ’15 said she bought sweaters and boots when it snowed, but that she didn’t bother to buy snow boots since they “haven’t exactly been necessary.”

Other students interviewed, however, thought that the warmer weather would have helped sales.

“I would have thought that warmer winter would mean more sales because people would be more willing to go out,” said Kate Falkenstien ’12.

According to the Weather Channel, the historical average high temperature for a February day in New Haven is 40 degrees.

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