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Winter chill hits local businesses

Owners say the snow and ice have hurt business and spelled trouble for employees.
Jimmy Johns employee Derek Cousins leaves on his bike for a delivery on Monday, March 3, 2014 in Stadium Village.
Image by Patricia Grover
Jimmy Johns employee Derek Cousins leaves on his bike for a delivery on Monday, March 3, 2014 in Stadium Village.

Minnesota is experiencing one of the harshest winters in its history, leaving local businesses and their employees feeling the pain.

This winter is the state’s coldest in 35 years, with temperatures averaging only 9.7 degrees, according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. Local businesses and employees say the weather is costing them money and putting their health at risk.

Rene Nichols, general manager of the Dinkytown Jimmy John’s, said one of her delivery cyclists was on University Avenue Southeast last Wednesday when his bike slipped out from under him on the ice. He was still clipped into his bike and couldn’t move, she said, when a car drove over his bike, coming within inches of his body and crunching his back tire.

Nichols said her franchise couldn’t operate without deliveries, and using a car isn’t feasible for the Dinkytown location. She said her cyclist troubles have been “endless” this winter.

“It’s really hard on them,” she said. “Lots of bike maintenance, lots of scary falls and encounters with [expletive] drivers.”

The store’s bottom line has also taken a hit, Nichols said. She estimates the severe weather has cost her business about $10,000 compared to this time last year, mostly due to a decrease in sales.

Portions of Jimmy John’s’ losses are from protecting cyclists, who make 20 to 80 deliveries per shift. Nichols said when subzero temperatures hit, they shrink the delivery zones and give the cyclists free coffee, food and hand warmers. She also said she won’t let bikers return to the road too quickly after a

Customers don’t always realize the restaurant delivers by bike and will call and complain, Nichols said.

“You’d think they notice the helmet and the goggles,” she said. “They don’t care. They just want their food.”

Not all businesses that do deliveries are struggling, though.

Insomnia Cookies assistant manager Angela Hreha said business has picked up because customers don’t want to leave their houses. The business makes most of its revenue through deliveries, she said, and uses cars instead of bicycles.

An unusual winter

In addition to unusually low temperatures, this winter has had nearly double the average amount of snow that the Twin Cities typically gets.

As part of one of Minneapolis’ special service districts, Dinkytown property owners have a contract with the city to remove snow from the area.

Dinkytown Business Association interim president and Burrito Loco Bar and Grill co-owner Greg Pillsbury said the service costs the district about $80,000 per year but the city charges extra if snowfall reaches a certain inch limit.

Pillsbury said the service is great, and property owners unanimously support it.

“However, if you get a ton of snow, you can easily go over your budget,” he said.

Making ends meet

For junior elementary education major Elizabeth Tiller-Braun, a server at Annie’s Parlour, this winter has been more difficult than most.

Tiller-Braun said that when the snow falls, she has to brave the elements and shovel the sidewalk and stairways of the restaurant as part of “closing chores.”

“It’s been rough,” she said. “There’s a lot of snow, and employees have slipped and fallen down stairs. They’ve had to go on medical leave, which is pretty unfortunate.”

The weather has confronted Tiller-Braun with financial risks, too. Her customer load drops considerably during the winter months, she said, so she has to be careful about how she spends her money.

Tiller-Braun said during the summer, she operates about 15 tables, but come winter, that number is cut in half.

“We get spoiled in the summer,” she said. “In the winter, everyone is struggling for any hours they can get, and we just do not make the money that we used to.”

Annie’s doesn’t hire at all during the winter because of the drop in clientele, Tiller-Braun said, and employees often look for additional work.

“Everyone knows if you need money during the winter, then you should try to find alternative job options,” she said.

On the bright side, Wednesday’s forecast calls for a high of 26.

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