Video: Retailers nervous about snow keeping customers away

SEATTLE - Yet another winter storm forecast to hit Washington state this weekend couldn't come at a worse time for retailers already facing sluggish holiday sales.

"It's just a bummer all around," said Shultzie Fay, owner of The Paperdoll specialty boutique in Bellingham. "We're in an economic slump and all of a sudden you factor in weather conditions."

Storms this week kept so many customers away that Fay started offering to deliver purchases to customers unable to make it to her store.

It's only going to get worse. The National Weather Service issued a winter storm warning for much of Western Washington for this weekend. It also predicted heavy snow in Eastern Washington.

With less than a week before Christmas, retailers and mall managers say they'll continue to stay open to cater to shoppers and make up for slow sales this month.

The weekend before Christmas is typically one of the busiest of the year.

"It's an extremely important time," said Lynn Beck, general manager of Pacific Place mall in downtown Seattle. "That's why, as much as we can, as long as it's safe, we'll serve those customers coming in."

Pacific Place returned to regular hours Friday, after closing early Thursday when snow, ice and cold kept customers away.

Sarah Bonds, a spokeswoman for Northgate and Tacoma malls, said they try to balance the safety of shoppers and employees with customers' need to finish their holiday shopping.

In Spokane, NorthTown, Spokane Valley and Silver Lake malls resumed regular hours Friday after a dump of two feet of snow forced the malls to close early.

"We'll work through the weather issues as they come along," said John Shasky, senior general manager of NorthTown Mall. "We're in the home stretch right now."

He said the weekend is critical not only for retailers but "for people like me who have only bought one gift and barely scratched the surface."

It was business as usual at malls in Kennewick, in Washington's Tri-Cities, and Union Gap near Yakima, with officials there predicting a busy weekend as shoppers scramble to get in last-minute purchases.

Jan Teague, CEO of the Washington Retail Association, said the weather hasn't helped sales, which have been flat.

"Those that have to shop are still going to have to figure out how to get out," she said.

Independent retailers that depend on foot traffic weren't as optimistic.

In Bellingham, store owner Fay said the weather exacerbated an already tough situation. She'll likely close one of two shops next year.

Vancouver retailer Jim Hively has seen a 10 percent decline in sales this year and isn't looking forward to more snow.

"More bad weather would be a double whammy," he told The Columbian newspaper. He's hoping that last-minute shoppers will buy musical instruments before Dec. 25.

Still, others remained hopeful.

"People will still be coming out and be serious about shopping," said Jennifer Leavitt, vice president of marketing for Bellevue Square, Lincoln Square and Bellevue Place malls. "Our customers are going to get here and expect us to be here."

Dave Vanderhoek, who sells hunting and fishing supplies in Lynden, said he owes it to his customers to stay open.

"It's tradition, we don't close, not in 32 years," said Vanderhoek, who owns Dave's Sports Shop. "People want to come and shop. I've got employees who want to work.

"Every day we open is important."

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