Few are more over the snow than Portland’s small businesses | Crain's Portland

Few are more over the snow than Portland’s small businesses

Last week, Sarah Shaoul walked to work at Black Wagon, the children’s clothing shop she owns on North Mississippi Avenue. Before leaving, she stuffed a garbage bag full of jackets in her neighbor’s kids’ sizes and trudged back home on the icy sidewalks.

“I must’ve looked like some crazy Santa walking down the street, with that garbage bag full of coats and my backpack with my computer,” Shaoul jokes. “My neighbor was telling me how she wished she had bought winter coats for her kids before the snow fell. I thought I could help her out and brought what I had in the shop to her. She said I made her day and bought two coats. She made my day, too.”

As Shaoul notes, there have been a lot of tough days of late for Portland small businesses. Restaurants, retailers, massage therapists, fitness studios and others were denied some of their traditionally busiest days in December due to the season’s first snowfall. And now, January’s "snowpocalypse" and states of emergency designations have forced shop closures for days at a time, shorting paychecks of hourly workers and threatening to push shop owners – already operating on narrow margins – over the edge.

“This trickles down to everyone, not just the businesses themselves,” Shaoul says. “And if it doesn’t pick up, the effects could be devastating for the city’s economy, which depends on healthy small businesses.

"This lack of economic activity drains tax base and curtails further spending with all businesses that provide materials to those businesses, from food vendors and marketing professionals to professional printers and bookkeepers," she continues. "Even if businesses are able to open their doors, employees are losing hours due to everything from inability to get to work to not enough business to justify their attendance.”

Shaoul, who has been a small business owner for nearly 25 years and also works as a small business consultant, has organized more than 80 small businesses across industries to offer 10 percent discounts on gift certificate purchases made through Jan. 25.  Response from the business community has been overwhelming, she says, adding her voicemail and email inbox are full of those wishing to participate.

Travis Miranda, owner of Baby Doll Pizza on Burnside Street, says business has been slower due to the weather. However, with limited hours, they have been able to be open for business.  

“We are fortunate that we do have many employees who live close by and we have a great neighborhood support base of customers. The bar and the pizza shop situated right in between neighborhoods, ended up being a place for many of the local neighbors to come to eat, drink and warm up,” he says. “We aren’t really making profit these days, but we are paying the bills and many employees are still working, and the neighborhood folk are content.”

Baby Doll stopped delivering pizza on certain days, but was still able to utilize the restaurant delivery services, Postmates and Caviar. Miranda says most of his vendors were able to bring deliveries eventually.  

“Unfortunately, our employees that don’t live locally have lost working hours; these will be hard to make up. I have given several employees advances to help them out,” Miranda says.

“Our most visible problem has been the garbage that hasn’t been picked up in 10 days and is now overflowing out of the dumpsters. The garbage company offices have been closed and there is no one to talk with about this.”

Some owners thrive

Of course, if your business is about snow, as it is for the Mountain Shop on NE Sandy, then you’re in pretty good shape.

Guy Trombley has served as the shop’s general manager for the past six years and worked in the ski and snow industry for three decades. The shop itself is coming up on 80 years of business.

So far, this winter is among the best Trombley says he’s seen in the last 15 to 20 years, and he estimates business is easily up by 25 percent. He says he’s having trouble keeping the store stocked with items like Microspikes, which help people navigate the icy, snow-packed streets and sidewalks, and even maintaining the feverish pace for rentals and equipment tune-ups.

“As much as I love this,” Trombley says, “I’ll also be content to serve as just general manager again soon too and not have to work everything from cashier to janitorial services, because even extra employees on hand aren’t enough.”

January 17, 2017 - 6:44pm