With the accumulating winter snows costing Massachusetts companies more than $1 billion in lost sales and productivity, Governor Charlie Baker Friday urged consumers to patronize their local businesses and sought to extend the Valentine’s Day holiday to a week of post-storm spending.
The governor stood with several statewide business leaders Friday and issued a proclamation declaring the coming February school break “Valentine’s Week,” to make up for the sharp loss of business that restaurants and retailers are expecting on a snowy Saturday night.
“It’s been extremely hard for small businesses,” Baker said. “We want to encourage everyone, once the storm passes, to get out and visit your Main Street businesses.”
Baker’s unusual plea came as the MBTA announced it will close the transit system on Sunday and the region prepared for a foot or more of snow that is forecast to begin falling Saturday night, accompanied by winds up to 75 miles per hour. The governor said he is considering imposing another travel ban during this storm, but will wait until Saturday to decide.
Economists estimate the drop-off in consumer spending, missed days at work, and transportation delays caused by the string of winter storms have already cost Massachusetts more than $1 billion in lost business activity. The losses are sizable enough to reduce the local economy’s output by 1 percentage point during the beginning of 2015.
Another big storm that shuts down the roads and transit system for several days would inflict deeper damage on the state economy in the short term, said Doug Handler, chief US economist for IHS Global Insight, a Lexington-based forecasting firm.
“It’s about the day-to-day disruptions, the number of days where economic activity more or less ceases,” Handler said. “There will be an impact.”
The impact on the local economy could rival the hit it took last year when weeks of bitter cold, known as the polar vortex, descended on much of the nation, causing business activity to contract more than 2 percent. It took three to six months for the economy to thaw out, but business output eventually recovered, said Northeastern University economist Alan Clayton-Matthews.
He said the local economy could suffer even more this year if the weather pattern doesn’t break soon.
“With another foot of snow, who knows what it could do,” said Clayton-Matthews.
Around the region, the clogged roads, crippled transit system, and snow-blocked sidewalks and parking lots are making it difficult for employees to get to work, deliveries to get to stores and companies, and consumers to go out and shop.
“People just aren’t coming,” bemoaned Jeffrey Azzoto, owner of Focal Point Opticians in Coolidge Corner, Brookline, which on one day this week had just three customers. Business is down 20 percent or so, Azzoto said, and under his counter, a drawer is overflowing with new prescription glasses that customers haven’t retrieved.
Down Harvard Street, business at the Brookline Booksmith during the stormy period has fallen 25 percent compared with last year.
“With the snow, people are just worn-out and frazzled,” said Booksmith co-owner Dana Brigham. “They aren’t going out for dinner, a movie, and a browse at the bookstore.”
Special events that drive sales, such as book signings and readings, have been repeatedly canceled, many of the staffers have had trouble getting in on time — or even at all some days — and the loading area behind the building is so blocked with snow that neither delivery nor garbage trucks can get in.
“All these ordinary things become much more difficult,” Brigham sighed. “And it seems like every day, there’s another bad forecast.”
Retailers and restaurants are particularly upset at the timing of this weekend’s storm, because Valentine’s Day is one of their busiest times of the year.
Jon Hurst, president of Retailers Association of Massachusetts, estimated Valentine’s Day-related sales represent a half-billion dollars in the state; consumers, on average, spend more than $150 on the holiday.
“If we lose those sales, they’re never going to come back,” Hurst said at a news conference at the State House with Baker.
Jay Ash, the state’s economic development secretary, said he was the only customer at one of his favorite restaurants in Chelsea one day this week. The restaurant stopped its takeout delivery business because the piles of snow routinely delayed drivers or prevented them from parking at customers’ homes.
Traffic conditions are not only costing businesses sales, but forcing some to spend more money to keep the flow of freight going. On Friday, A. Duie Pyle, a Pennsylvania-based trucking company with operations in Massachusetts, said it had transferred 35 drivers, dock workers, and other staff from terminals in other states to New England. Employees are also working double shifts, the shipper said, and the company plans to run trucks on Saturday to companies that can receive deliveries.
“Pickup and delivery efforts in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island are still impeded by ongoing snow removal, road restrictions, and customers with limited access,” the company said in an alert posted on its website, “making normal pickup and delivery service extremely problematic.”
In Canton, Humboldt Storage & Moving has spent thousands of dollars to have snow cleared from the roof of its large storage warehouse, owner Howard Goldman said. Like at other companies, business is down; the company rescheduled one moving job for a client on Beacon Hill to 3 a.m. next week, to avoid blocking the narrow, snow-choked street during daytime travel.
“This is a first for us,” Goldman said.
Consumers, meanwhile, are understandably fatigued from fighting so much snow and have little energy to slog out to stores.
“It’s just not worth the trouble going out,” said 42-year-old Eric Jamieson, who made an exception Friday to buy his wife a Valentine’s gift at the Derby Street Shoppes in Hingham. “I’d rather just deal with the necessities.”
Nearby, Grace Seibert-Larke said she had come only reluctantly to the shopping center to get her iPad repaired at the Apple Store.
“I’m definitely not in a shopping mood,” the 68-year-old Marshfield resident said. “I feel bad for all of these stores. This weather can’t be good for the economy.”