TRAVERSE CITY — Bill Nall is getting used to 14-hour work days this winter.
The owner of Dino’s Pizza in Traverse City said the brutal stretch of cold, nasty, fatiguing, make-you-want-to-head-south-for-the-winter weather has been good for his northern Michigan business. Pizza orders are up approximately 15 percent at Dino’s on Eighth Street, likely because people want their dinner delivered to their doorstep so they don’t have to brave the ice and cold.
“Business is always better for us the worse the weather,” said Nall, noting recent cold snaps are producing sales levels comparable to usual July Cherry Festival numbers.
“Everyone is staying home and getting pizza, which is okay with me,” Nall said.
No one seems immune from the ruthless weather, which affects everyone in the Grand Traverse region from wood splitters to retailers. Andrew and Louis Groleau can’t split the wood fast enough to meet demand for seasoned hardwood at Groleau Farm Market at 2080 Hammond Road East.
The Groleaus have moved close to 200 cords to heat-hungry customers.
“We can’t keep up,” said Lynn Groleau. “Its been crazy … normally people have enough stocked up, but it’s been so cold they’ve run out and other people are burning it because propane is high and the wood helps keep their heating costs down. We can’t keep it in stock. We get it loaded up and it’s gone. People are saying they are having a hard time finding it.”
Restaurants are reporting ups and downs in customer traffic. Nabiel Musleh is the owner and cook at Zakey restaurant, which serves fine Middle Eastern cuisine on Front Street in Traverse City. Business is down about 20 percent at the restaurant with the name that translates into “delicious” in Arabic is down, prompting Musleh to offer extra specials and attention to customers to make sure they know how much he appreciates their patronage.
“It’s been a little bit slower than normal,” said Musleh, who’d just read an article in a trade magazine predicting that the bad weather could cut restaurant sales by as much as 60 percent.
“What we do is make sure the people are taken care of,” Musleh said. “We control our overhead … but the 20 below zero, the school closings, the roads are not plowed, they are non-controllable factors. You can’t control it.”
John Hanson owns Toonies Fish & Steakhouse in Bellaire and said “it’s been a good winter” because snow-loving tourists are as plentiful as the snow itself.
“All the snow is bringing in the skiers, snowmobilers and snowshoers,” Hanson said. “Its been so darn bitter, but it hasn’t stopped the hearty individuals. It definitely is the topic of conversation for almost everyone who walks in the door.”
Frozen sewer lines, burst pipes and busted boilers are keeping Kalkaska Plumbing & Heating’s six technicians busy as they answer service calls from Grayling to Torch Lake. Overtime is up, but the business still struggles to keep up with demand, said office manager Tina Copeland, who answers the business’ phones and “attempts scheduling.”
“(Callers) don’t like it if you tell them we don’t have someone available to get over there, but there’s nothing I can do about that,” Copeland said. “We have other jobs going on along with the services calls coming in.”
Copeland said technicians have been called to the post office in downtown Kalkaska 10 or 12 times alone this winter.
“For the post office, we have to rent a steam-jetter and jet out their sewer lines,” she said. “They’ve been frozen quite a bit over there.”
Service demands are similarly high for heating systems and roofs at commercial businesses.
“We haven’t had a winter like this in years,” said Terry McGowen, accounts manager at Arms & Cole, a division of Hurst Mechanical, in Traverse City. “I would say our business has increased 50 percent from last winter.”
Several downtown Traverse City retailers said they are pleased to see foot traffic up this winter, despite lots of snow and cold. They credited recent winter festivals and events for bringing more people downtown.
“The clothing has been flying out of here,” said Karl Kitchen, employee at Boyne Country Sports. “During the beer festival, one gentleman came in and said, ‘Can I get a whole box of handwarmers? I want a whole box.’”