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Snow means profit for businesses

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Some in Shelby are weathering a lot of extra work

By Lisa King

Although not all businesses profit from frigid temperatures and snow, those conditions spell ringing phones and cash registers for some in Shelby County as the public deals with this winter’s sub-zero temperatures, icy roads and snowdrifts.

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“We get a lot of work and a lot of tows if a storm hits at rush hour,” said Rusty Barrett, owner of Pure Reflection towing service.

“If it hits between six and eight [o’clock], when everybody’s trying to get to work, or around five o’clock [p.m.], when people are getting off, we have quite a few accidents, and everybody’s sliding off the road.

“This year, we had more people that needed to be pulled out of their driveways where they slid off their driveways.”

Barrett said that Saturday’s snowstorm was especially profitable.

“We got about ten to fifteen percent more tows last weekend than usual,” he said.

But tows are just the beginning, he said, adding that his service also provides jump-starts for dead car batteries, a common occurrence when temperatures dip below 12 degrees.

Frozen precipitation also damages on car doors – many of them are plastic – making them brittle and easily broken, a bonus for body shops, another area in the automotive industry that profits from cold weather.

Plumbers are keeping busy repairing broken and ruptured water pipes, and  many people are doing their best to make sure their pipes don’t fall victim to that fate – and that requires purchasing the right materials.

“We’ve sold quite a bit of heat tape to put on pipes to keep them from freezing,” said Ron Manno, owner of Shelby Hardware on Midland Trail next to Speedway.

He said that cold weather necessitates the purchase of many items that aren’t in big demand in warm weather, and sales have been good for the past couple of weeks in that area.

“Winter can be good for us,” he said. “Unfortunately, most things that are bad for people are good for business at the hardware store. Like, frozen pipes need plumbing parts, people need heaters, snow and ice shovels, and Ice Melt. When there’s cold and snow and frozen stuff, that helps our business.”

But Manno said he wants to give consumers a break on some of those necessary items, by offering them at reduced prices.

“We’re running a sale right now, thirty percent off,” he said.

 

Propane issues

Heating costs for people that use propane are also spiking, a situation that affects many in the agricultural and rural community.

Propane prices have been shooting up since mid-December, with prices jumping as much as $1.50 per gallon, standing now at $3.89 per gallon.

Dan Baker, manager of Propane Shelby Plus on Isaac Shelby Drive, said that the higher prices because of the propane shortage is only part of the problem.

“I watch the news every day, and they’re telling half truths about it,” he said. “It’s not so much the price, as getting the fuel. That’s the whole problem. Yes, the manufacturers have raised the price on us, but if I could get all the fuel I wanted, there would be no problem, but the problem is getting the fuel.”

Baker said that he is the primary supplier of propane in Shelby County and that 60 percent of his customers are regulars, or “contract” customers, and the rest are more sporadic buyers.

He charges his contract customers $2.14 per gallon, but the rest must pay the $3.89, he said, something that he says he can’t help.

“We have to buy off the market, and they shot the prices sky high on it,” he said. “It went about a buck and a half higher. We get a contract, and we buy all this fuel up front. Once a ration goes, they say, your contract gas, you can’t touch it. You got to buy off the market. So the market is sky high right now.

‘This arctic blast has killed every bit of the propane. I talked to a driver today. He brought me a load I’ve been waiting on for three days. I got it and I said, ‘When are you going to get another one,’ and he said, ‘I don’t know.’”

Baker said that in spite of the shortage, he doesn’t intend to let his customers go without propane – he’ll get it somehow, he said.

Kentucky Gov. Steve Beshear’s office released a statement Tuesday saying the Kentucky Transportation Cabinet issued an emergency order exempting commercial vehicle drivers from federal “hours of service” requirements while transporting propane, effective until Feb. 11, or until the emergency ends.

Said Ryan Watts, spokesperson for the Transportation Cabinet: “It lifts the restrictions for drivers. They are only allowed eleven hours a day on the road, and this extends those hours.”

The propane tank itself can also have issues in very cold weather, something that Graybeal Air Systems, a company located on Mount Eden Road that services natural gas furnaces and propane tanks, has been encountering.

“For people with propane, we’ve had a lot of people who have had their regulators on their tanks get frozen, then the gas doesn’t come through, and they don’t have heat,” said Betsy Diggs, manager for Graybeal.

She said that usually the company only has one or two customers per winter season that will experience that problem, but already this year, they’ve had seven or eight.

Heat pumps and other units have also frozen up, she said.

“If ice gets on your unit outside and covers it, then it doesn’t breathe as well. The thing is, people have to have heat,” she said. “It’s not like in the spring. If your furnace goes out in March, you can kind of limp through until the fall,” she said. “So we are generally busier in January and February.”

 

Illnesses also good for business

Automobiles and water pipes aren’t the only casualties of freezing weather. People break down, too.

Karen Arnold, manager at Walgreens, said her drugstore, in addition to continuing to administer flu shots, has been selling a great deal of over the counter medications to treat respiratory problems associated with winter weather.

“This time of year, it’s more cough and cold [products], and we’re doing a lot of flu immunizations,” she said.

But the health products aren’t all that’s in demand related to winter weather, Arnold said.

“We’ve been selling a lot of rock salt, and as a matter of fact, we’re out of that stuff now,” she said. “And pictures! You wouldn’t believe how many photos we’re processing right now. A lot people like to take pictures of the snow and ice.”

If people are buying lots of cold preparation medications, they must also be frequenting medical facilities, right?

Karen Thornton, spokesperson for Kroger, said the Shelbyville store’s Little Clinic has been very busy this winter.

“We’ve had increased visits at the Little Clinic in Shelbyville, due to upper respiratory illnesses, including flu-like symptoms and stomach viruses,” she said.

“Also, the cold weather keeps everyone inside together, which increases the spreading of germs.”

Lodging facilities have been experiencing both ends of the spectrum as far as profiting and losing from winter weather, innkeepers say.

“The weather has impacted us negatively due to the fact that we have fewer contractors, with a lot of contractors being called off, and jobs have been postponed,” said Brian Fitzpatrick, owner of Best Western on Isaac Shelby Drive. “But if we get snow or sleet, we see an increase, due to travelers deciding to pull off rather than take the risk of driving in the snow.”

That was a scenario that played out in a big way last weekend, Fitzpatrick said.

“We had a handful, that’s for certain,” he said.