Despite a pre-Thanksgiving snowfall, warmer temperatures and dry weather has slowed the prospect of a snowy winter. While this may ease driving headaches and heating bills, local businesses that depend on the white flakes falling from the sky have to deal with the effects of the variable winter.
Sharp Park in Milton, which offers snow tubing in the winter months, is one of those businesses affected by the lack of snow. Owner Rick Sharp said the business can be extremely irregular since it relies completely on natural snowfall.
“In order for our property to work, it has to be below freezing, we have to have 5 to 6 inches of snow. The more the better, and it has to be a school break,” he said. “If you’re missing any of those elements, it doesn’t work.”
While the early November snowstorm produced great snow for the park to open, Sharp said he didn’t get much business and only made a few hundred dollars a day. If the same snow had fallen between Christmas and New Year’s Day, he said he would have made between $1,000 and $1,500 a day.
“We lost thousands of dollars, and that hurts a lot,” he said.
Of course, Sharp said, running a business that depends on the weather means he has to diversify his income streams in order to stay in business. Sharp Park offers Segway tours, paragliding, Christmas tree sales and even weddings in its new barn venue to supplement his snow tubing income.
“We could subdivide [our property] into 10 lots, sell them off … and take the $2 million and scoot down to the Bahamas or something,” he said. “But that’s not what we want to do. We want to preserve our property for recreation.”
Sharp added that snow tubing usually makes up about 20 percent of his income, but this year, he said, it’s looking more like 10 percent.
“There’s a reward to all this and that is, yes, you get one lousy year for snow tubing, but other activities take its place in the meantime,” he said. “If we can get enough of those things going … then we can keep it open for park space.”
S&D Landscaping in Essex also understands the benefits of diversifying revenue streams to stay afloat, focusing on landscaping in the warmer months and snow plowing driveways and parking lots in the winter.
Owner Aaron Smith said his plowing business also has to work on a contract basis in order to guarantee income to stay in business.
“We treat snow removal like you might treat a fire department or an ambulance,” he explained. “We hope that our people understand that they’re paying to never see us, because it’s not so much about doing the work, it’s about being ready to do the work, and that is the expense.”
Smith also owns a snow removal company in Boston, where he says the money is better despite only half the amount of snow falling there than here in Vermont. He says the difference is business owners there understand the value of having plowed parking spaces in front of stores to attract business.
“Here, we have sort of a laissez-faire attitude about it,” he explained. “We’re more tolerant of a lower level of service. Very unusual, but that’s the reality.”