TAHOE/TRUCKEE, Calif. — With temperatures in the low 50s, green grass and flowers sprouting up, and bikers peddling along the road, the staff of New & Used Tahoe Sports in Tahoe City was busy Sunday afternoon packing up the store’s leftover winter merchandise.
As minutes ticked by, the store’s walls and shelves got emptier as winter jackets, snow pants and other outerwear were folded and packed into cardboard boxes, while ski and snowboard boots were being arranged in boxes before being sealed with clear duct tape and labeled.
“We got rid of a lot of the gear this year, so (there’s) a lot less to pack than I thought we were going to have,” said owner Patrick Cerceau, while he helped paper the consignment shop’s windows, signaling the business’s closure until November.
He said business this winter was up “considerably” — approximately 40 percent — compared to last year.
“It comes down to snowfall,” Cerceau said. “Anytime we had snow during the season, we had an increase in sales.”
This year’s major snowstorm came shortly before the Christmas holiday, blanketing the region in several feet of snow, with dustings following it the next few months.
“We would have liked more snow after the holidays, but the snow we got, we got at the most important, critical time, before and during Christmas,” said Dan Copeland, owner of the Truckee Shoe Company and Tahoe Shoe Company in Tahoe City. “We did have a good holiday season, both stores.”
Area ski resorts also benefited from the holiday snowfall, with Squaw Valley and Alpine Meadows having a successful Christmas and New Year’s, along with Martin Luther King Day weekend and Presidents’ Day weekend, said Amelia Richmond, public relations manager at Squaw.
“Solid holidays is a make or break for resorts,” Richmond said.
And while January through March was the driest in more than 100 years for the area, according to previous reports, the timing of the snow and a cold snap in January helped this winter to be a profitable one, said Paco Lindsay, owner of Paco’s Truckee Bike and Ski.
“(It) was miracle that cold snap that went on for so long, in hindsight, because it preserved the snow,” he said. “ … That cold snap probably gave us an extra two, three weeks worth of snow. All of us were lucky.”
But with recent rising temperatures, an early Easter and lack of another major snowstorm, the winter season “fizzled out,” said Mike Lathbury, owner of Smokey’s Kitchen.
While all agreed that this winter’s business was better than last year’s, it was still below average.
“We’re still down a little bit, but at the same time, it was a good healthy year,” said Lindsay, adding that business for him was about 10 percent below average.
As for Lathbury, business was down about 20 percent from an average winter.
“The only thing that affected our economy this year was lack of snow,” he said. “I don’t blame the economy; I blame the lack of snow because when there’s snow, our economy is very good.”
A few businesses owners said they think the economy is gradually improving, indicators being the local real estate market appears to be picking up, those in construction seem to be busier and people are buying more when out.
“People are going out and spending money and staying in motels and coming to the lake,” said Stuart Cheyne, night desk manager at Americas Best Value Inn in Tahoe City. “Why? I don’t know sometimes. I think people are just doing it. Are they going to sit around forever and not do anything? So they’re doing it.”
He said business has been busy recently, with things picking up in the last year and a half since the 2008 financial crisis.
“Our numbers are slowly creeping back up to where we’d like them to be pre-recession, pre-tank, but we’re not quite there yet,” said Suzanne Hirabayashi, office manager at River Ranch, nextdoor to Alpine Meadows.
Regional reaction on future winters is mixed.
“We’re still going to have big winters, but we’re probably going to have a heck of a lot more bad winters,” said Lindsay, whose shop made the transition to spring last week with cross-country ski equipment coming down and bikes going up on display. “… I’ve seen that winter is not coming quite as early; it’s coming later, so I have to definitely adjust my business.”
As for what that adjustment might look like, he said he isn’t completely sure, although his bike shop is helping to pick up some of the business slack when there are more mild winters.
Copeland, who questions what an average winter is at this point, said for the past few years his store has been stocking more multipurpose merchandise, not just footwear for the snow, but footwear that can also be worn in the rain or for outdoor recreation.
“Snow up here goes in cycles,” Lathbury said. “When I first moved here, we were just coming off seven years of drought, and then we had a couple of big winters, and we’ve had soft winters, since I’ve lived up here for 30 years. So you just take the good winters with the bad winters.”
Due to this year’s mild winter, especially after the holidays, he kept his business “leaner,” hiring less staff, working more himself and buying less food this winter season.
“You just roll with the punches,” Lathbury said. “As long as you can react, you survive.”