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Posted on Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 1:35 p.m.

Ann Arbor's 'snowconomy' businesses excited to see snow falling

By Ben Freed


Judah Dussia, 17, of Ann Arbor and Caden Stein, 15, of Manchester, check out snowboarding helmets at Sun & Snow on Wednesday afternoon.

Melanie Maxwell |

Snowfall started just before noon on Wednesday afternoon in Ann Arbor, prompting expectations of up to half a foot of snow and weather-related profits at some of Ann Arbor’s winter-themed stores and businesses.

“We just called in extra staff this morning and we’re ready. We’re like snow farmers, we depend on the snow,” Sun & Snow co-owner Rob Parent said.

“We have kind of a slow period in the fall and early winter when it’s 45 degrees and raining, no one wants to be outdoors in that weather. But then the you get the first flurry and that carries us through March.”

Parent said that even though a lot of his business comes from people who travel to do their winter sports, just seeing snow outside can remind people to come into the store and get their gear.

“If there’s no snow, they’re not thinking about it,” he said.

“So the earlier in the year that first snow comes, the better. The past couple years haven’t been the best for that, but the three years before that were a blessing.”

Mark Foster, owner of A. M. Services, said the snow is a lifeline for some of his employees who only work when there’s plowing to be done.

“There’s a lot of uncertainty from some of them (about) when they’re next paycheck is going to come,” he said.

“So they watch the forecasts pretty closely and they’re hoping this really gets the winter going. They love going out and taking care of people and their driveways, but they need a little snow on the ground to do that.”


Tony Bole, a transplanted Californian, prepared for his first Michigan winter in 2007 by stocking up on 100 pounds of rock salt from Stadium Hardware.

Robert Chase | Ann Arbor News

The process of checking the plowing equipment, buying salt, and reviewing customer properties starts well before the first flurries. Foster said A. M. Services has been preparing for this snow for about two months.

Now the challenge is making sure that when the snow actually comes there are people there to move it out of the way. With a number of students and regular employees on vacation, Foster is spending Wednesday closely watching the forecast and making sure he has enough people to cover all of his customers.

“More work goes into preparing than actually taking care of it when the time comes,” he said.

“But when we work a full event when there’s a good snow it’s about 60 people going out and about 30 snowplows.”

Foster has about a 50/50 mix of customers who pay by the season and customers who pay per snowfall. He said that every once in a while there’s a year with enough snowfalls that seasonal buyers come out on top, but that people paying per push tend to make up the difference.

“Having more snowfalls is always beneficial for us,” he said.

“Everything comes together nicely that way. For the most part there’s no such thing as too much snow. But there is certainly such thing as too little.”

Stadium Hardware co-owner Mike Kruzel said he needs a lot of snow to make a significant impact on his bottom line. Snowfalls always bring an increase in salt and shovel sales, but those tend to be offset by a drop in other products.

“It shuts down normal building and repair supplies pretty much,” he said.


Diego Saylon, 7, of Saline, checks the length of a pair of skies using his chin as a guide as he picks out a new par with his dad George at Play It Again Sports on Wednesday.

Melanie Maxwell |

“People just kind of stop thinking about doing their normal repairs because they get scared of the snow. So it puts your business pretty much in a single dimension, which is storm preparedness. We sell a lot of flashlights, ice melter, and salt, but that’s basically it.”

Kruzel said the only time his business really spikes is if there’s a big disaster.

“A few years ago we had a big ice storm and people’s roofs were getting messed up, so we must have sold hundreds of roof rakes where we might have sold 20 in the 10 years before that,” he said.

“But that’s the exception and you can’t really predict that. It’s weather in Michigan.”

Foster also said predictions only go so far when he’s preparing for the season. In the midst of a storm he’ll be in constant contact with meteorologists in Chicago, but when it comes to broader predictions, he gets mixed messages.

“This year I’ve heard from very credible sources that we’re going to have a lot of snow, very little snow, and average snow,” he said. “It’s always a wait and see type of thing.”

Parent said he uses the Sun and Snow social media pages to let send out snow forecasts and remind their customers that it’s time to shop for their winter gear. The shop does 60 percent of its annual business in a three-month period during snow season.

“We normally have three people out on the sales floor, but on a day when there’s snow or people know that there’s going to be snow, we can have up to eight,” he said.

“This is exactly what we need.”

Ben Freed covers business for You can sign up here to receive Business Review updates every week. Reach out to Ben at 734-623-2528 or email him at Follow him on twitter @BFreedinA2



Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 1:06 a.m.

Snowconomy? Really? What's next, Snowpoclypse? Snowmageddon? The only people who think this is cute or clever are annoying and typically engaged in bad journalism.

Ben Freed

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 2:34 p.m.

Sara, I'm sorry we annoyed you with our headline. Snowpoclypse and Snowmageddon have actually already been used to describe a number of storms. While those terms tend to be hyperbolic, we felt that snowconomy was simply punny and maybe a tad "cute or clever." The word was not the main focus of the article, but it clearly prompted some people to read and I hope you learned a bit about the companies highlighted in the piece. Ben


Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 11:19 a.m.

Here are some extra headlines for future use: Snowpollosa, snowgate, snowfile, snowjam, the big snow of 2013, and snowmash.

Ann English

Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 11:46 p.m.

Ben, Did you purposely choose people surnamed Foster and Parent for this article? Not that foster parents have something to do with Sun & Snow or A. M. Services. Or was it a coincidence? Yesterday, I reminded other readers about Best Hardware Store around, voted on a few years back; today, you're reporting on that winner, Stadium Hardware.

Dog Guy

Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 9:10 p.m.

I'll go to the old west side and ski Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon.

An Arborigine

Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 8:59 p.m.

Sorry for the loss of commerce, but in my opinion last winter was the most wonderful one in recorded history in these parts.

Elaine F. Owsley

Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 8:36 p.m.

I feel sorry for those folks whose whole business is mowing in summer and plowing in winter. Bad winter last year for plowing, bad summer for mowing. Hope this snow is a sign it might be better this time.

Soulful Adrenaline

Thu, Dec 27, 2012 : 1:19 a.m.

Not if people are paying by the month no matter what.

Lizzy Alfs

Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 7:48 p.m.

Below is a related quote from an interview I had with Bivouac owner Ed Davidson a few weeks ago. Ed talked a bit about how the weather impacts his business on South State Street. When there is no snow and it's a mild winter, it can be challenging for him. "It has been 60 degrees for two days and I have a store filled with outwear. Its scary right now... I don't know what this winter will be. I'm a store that carries clothes that keep you warm. We had no winter last year...I can't assess what I'm going to do next year now, but I'm beginning to start thinking about next year and could become more gifty and less outwear. I don't know yet."


Wed, Dec 26, 2012 : 7:14 p.m.

I'm heading over to Downtown Home and Garden to pick up a new winter coat! Filson, Stormy Kromer, and Carhart...what a choice!