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Snowstorm’s overall impact on KC commerce? Some businesses win, some lose

Updated: 2013-02-26T05:12:52Z

By MARK DAVIS

The Kansas City Star

The blanket of white atop Overland Park’s golf courses looks nice. But it’s bad for business.

“Last winter obviously was a great winter,” said Blake Koger, director of marketing at the city-owned Overland Park and St. Andrews courses. “We had golf all winter long pretty much. A big change this year.”

Each day the snow remains, the city will lose out on the few hundred golfers that normally tee off on a decent February day. No greens fees. No beer and hamburger sales after the rounds.

Restaurants, supermarkets, shops, gas stations, movie theaters and many other establishments also see scant traffic when storms start to shut down the city.

Some of that lost business simply shifts to another day, as shoppers stock up on food and gasoline before a storm or hit the mall once streets are clear.

But some is simply gone for good.

Businesses aren’t the only ones damaged by disruptions. Hourly workers miss out when a shop shuts down or diners don’t show up for meals.

It can be particularly difficult for those earning low wages or living paycheck to paycheck, said Kelly Edmiston, senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City.

“They can’t really afford to miss work,” he said. “It messes up their budget for a really long time.”

Technology has rendered storms less disruptive to many other workers who can work from home thanks to Internet connections with the office. It means they don’t have to burn a vacation day when they don’t show up — even if they’re not as productive at home because the kids are out of school and the refrigerator is a tempting few steps away.

A widespread storm, like the ones that hit Kansas City last week and threatened Monday night, can inflict damage even beyond the snow belt.

Chris Kuehl, for example, canceled his Tuesday night hotel reservation in Tampa, Fla., where he’s heading to a business conference. Thanks to the storm, the economist at Armada Corporate Intelligence is waiting to leave Wednesday morning.

“Almost everyone going to this conference apparently has canceled whatever they were going to do on Tuesday and are going to come in Wednesday,” Kuehl said. “So this resort that had full bookings is now half empty.”

The hotel might be able to fill some of those rooms on short notice, but any rooms that remain empty are simply lost business.

To an economist, a night in a hotel room, a seat on a jetliner or a table at a restaurant is a perishable product. Get a customer to use it now, or lose its potential to bring in business.

At least Kansas City’s latest storm had the decency to threaten Monday night — perhaps the worst night for restaurants. A Friday or Saturday storm, however, means many lost meal tickets.

Some customers may decide to dine out a different night. But it’s hard to say that they wouldn’t have done so anyway.

“I think restaurants definitely lose business,” Edmiston said.

Of course, a winter storm brings in business, too.

Snow shovels and snow blowers, space heaters and generators, coats and boots, and a hundred other items find eager buyers. There’s overtime pay for street crews, and wheat farmers in Kansas are grateful for the moisture.

In the big picture, economists say it’s difficult to say whether a storm hurts or helps an economy overall. But winter weather clearly has its winners and losers.

To reach Mark Davis, call 816-234-4372 or send email to mdavis@kcstar.com.

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