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Businesses Are Hit Hard By Weather

For some, customers all but disappear; others scramble to keep up with crowds

POLK COUNTY -- Janette Sinclair, executive chef and co-owner of L'Attitude Point One, stepped into her downtown Dallas restaurant from the cold one day early last week during what would normally be the tail end of lunch hour.

Only her kitchen manager, Troy Crenshaw, was inside. Having already prepped a day's worth of food, Crenshaw said he was simply waiting for a chance to cook it.

"A little slow right now," Crenshaw said, noting only three customers that afternoon.

Daily patronage at the restaurant dropped to about a quarter of normal levels during the week-and-a-half that Northwestern Oregon was caught in the grip of winter storms, Sinclair said.

"We had three or four dinner parties that canceled," she said. "That hurt ... I think people have wanted to stay put if they can."

This month's recording-setting wintry weather had a significant impact on businesses in Polk County -- good and bad, depending on the type of business.

Local hardware stores in Dallas, Independence and Monmouth saw throngs of people seeking out snow shovels, de-icer and faucet covers, while auto parts shops saw similar activity for those clamoring for tire chains and snow tires.

Employees of the Dallas Les Schwab Tire Center, for example, reported that the size of crowds after the first storm in mid-December caused some customers to wait as long as four hours for service.

Many area restaurants and bars, meanwhile, didn't fare as well.

Alex Trevino, owner of Rookies Sports Pub and Eatery in Monmouth and the Ragin' River Steak Co. in Independence, said the 120 dinners he usually serves at Ragin' River was reduced by half during the storms, as many of his customers from Salem and Albany didn't want to venture out in snow and ice.

He also opted to close Rookies on Dec. 21 -- the day after a spate of freezing rain -- because most of his eight-person staff weren't able to travel to work.

"We didn't want to put anybody's safety in jeopardy," Trevino said.

Paul Marsell, co-owner of Dallas Select Market, said cold weather has always been a double-edged sword. The number of patrons at his store probably increased by 10 to 15 percent. Milk, eggs, bottled water and batteries were popular sellers, he said.

"If the weather broke for a few hours, then we would get slammed," Marsell said.

But plentiful snow and ice also meant days he and other staff spent shoveling snow from the building's flat roof, keeping gutters clear and coping with understandably late deliveries.

"We stayed good on the basics," he said. "The items we hadn't been able to get were beer and wine ... those come from Portland and they just weren't shipping them down here."

The freezing rain on Dec. 20 and 21 that downed tree limbs and caused a plethora of power outages meant a dramatic hike in activity for area tree pruning services.

"Our business has probably picked up about 50 percent," said LaVerne Feasel, manager of Tree-ific Arbor Care, which serves most of the Willamette Valley.

Feasel said the company had received 125 calls in two days beginning Dec. 21, most of them from Dallas and rural Polk County, to assist with fallen tree removal and preventive pruning.

"Storms are nice in that they keep our employees working through the winter," she said. "Unfortunately, we don't like to see trees damaging stores and people's homes."

Weather has posed problems for Reading Time Books on Main Street in Dallas, but not because it was deterring customers, owner Dawn Lynn said, noting she had at least 50 people walk through her store this day.

"There's a lot of people who aren't willing to drive to Salem for shopping," she said.

Her complaints involved plowed snow blocking off-street parking downtown, and the commute from her home in Falls City -- her store remained closed the previous Friday and Saturday because she couldn't leave her driveway.

"It's been a struggle," she said.

Brenda Brown of Dallas stopped by Reading Time to pick up a book. It was the last stop on a shopping trip around the city after being "cooped up" for a few days because of snow and ice.

"It has been nice," Brown said. "I actually got to drive myself today."

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Jillian Beaudry contributed to this story.

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