Small business feeling pinch from brutal winter weather

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The barrage of winter storms is taking a heavy toll on many local businesses.

Jeff Edwards, who owns Edwards Drive-in on East Raymond says he's down $41,000 - or 65 percent - this January over last January.

"I've never seen anything like this and we've been in business 50 years. The question is, how long can people hang on?" he said.

Edwards shared his concerns on a recent Facebook post. He said it's not just affecting him, but his employees and their families, noting it's the same for many other small businesses.

He said he believes the problem isn't just how much snow falls but how quickly the news of upcoming storms spreads via news outlets and social media.

"The information is at our fingertips so fast, we find out days ahead that bad weather is coming and it's all out there. And all of a sudden, we see a decline (in customers) because they're spending money on groceries and necessities and that takes away the money they have to spend in restaurants or other places," Edwards said.

Edwards said his post had 26,000 page views, far more than the usual 2,000-3,000.

"We were blown away by the response," he said, adding he hopes people will consider getting carry-out at a local restaurant before a storm instead of always going to the grocery store.

Carla Russell, who manages Iaria's restaurant on College Avenue, shares Edwards' concerns.

She said the repeated storms are "wreaking havoc on us...we're having to decide when to stay open when to close, how to order (food and supplies)."

Iaria's, which just celebrated its 100-year anniversary, has closed three times in ten years - two of those times were last month.

"We're kind of diehards here, because our regulars are," Russell said. But she said last month's bitter cold temperatures were a safety concern for employees and customers.

Bartender Dominick Iaria has been with family business for 40 years. He believes this winter is just as bad as 1978.

"It's hit everyone in the pocket here, it's hit our business," he said.

On the run over the lunch hour, Deanna Gordon was worried about the latest forecast, keeping one eye on Eyewitness News at Noon.

Seeing the prediction of 6-10 inches of snow, she said, "that means I don't know if Iaria's will be open tomorrow if it's that bad."

And if Iaria's closes, she loses a day's pay like most of the restaurant's other 30 employees. If it's open, but conditions are poor, she brings home less in tips, all of which makes it harder to pay the bills.

"Maybe I can try to pick up another shift, but I take care of my two-year-old grandson, because my daughter goes to school and works," she said.

Before any snow fell, cancellations were already coming in, with Russell trying to minimize the losses.

Showing us the produce cooler, she said, "Right now, we're way down in inventory from what we normally would be."

After last month's storm, she says they pitched a thousand dollars in produce. But those fixed costs aren't going anywhere.

"We have property taxes we have to pay, insurance, worker's comp, things like that, along with utilities," Russell said.

"There's nothing we can do but hope we're busy today so it's not so devastating," Gordon said.