Retail roller coaster

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 12:08 PM

When last week's sub-zero wind chills and blasting snow gave way to temperatures in the 40s and 50s early this week, store owners said traffic spiked with the mercury.

January is typically the slowest month for retail sales nationwide, but the wide array of weather patterns — and a few festivals thrown into the wintry mix — have kept sales sloshing along through snow, sleet, fog and a rare January thunderstorm that rolled in Tuesday night.

“We're Michiganders, we're hearty,” said Rheba Bolt, owner of The Paper Place in downtown Grand Haven. “... We expect the cold, we expect the snow. It might bother us for a couple of hours, then we get on with our lives.”

But Bolt said the warmer air and melting snow earlier this week perked up business big time. In fact, she interrupted an interview several times to wait on customers.

“Things are changing so quickly from moment to moment,” she said of the topsy-turvy temperatures.

Dana Kollewehr, director of the Grand Haven Main Street Downtown Development Authority, said the mid-winter weather break was perfect for the retail climate.

“I think people generally don't like to be cooped up for too long,” she said. “They want to be able to go out to eat, go to the coffee shop or the stores. People want to be where other people are and they want to socialize. But when it's really cold, they are less apt to do that.”

Kollewehr said events such as Winterfest, Wine About Winter and the upcoming Frozen in Time create a seasonal spark for business owners.

“The restaurants and coffee shops probably glean the most from these events," she said. "Winterfest activities are geared toward the outside and everyone is wearing heavy winter gear. They're not dressed for shopping, but it definitely creates a lot of activity and interest in the district. If you create a positive experience, you entice people to come back.”

“They're forecasting really nasty weather toward the end of the week, so people are going to get out and get stuff done,” said Joy Gaasch, president of the local Chamber of Commerce. “But it's very difficult to predict those patterns of human behavior when the weather is so unpredictable.”

Gaasch said the good news is that the economic front appears less volatile than warm and cold fronts colliding.

The Chamber of Commerce will host its annual economic forecast event next week. George Erickcek, a senior regional analyst for the W.E. Upjohn Institute for Employment Research, will present the forecast for 2013 on Feb. 5 at the Grand Haven Community Center.

To read more of this story, see today’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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