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Helmut Schmidt, Published December 27 2011

Businesses that rely on snow forced to alter plans this year

MOORHEAD – For lots of people, the brown Christmas and lack of snow cover in the Fargo-Moorhead area is a blessing.

City budgets are recovering from years of being drained by blizzard costs, which is a break for taxpayers.

Fargo may save $500,000 to $550,000 in unused overtime, fuel and salt, sand and chemicals, Ben Dow, director of public works, said Tuesday.

City Administrator Pat Zavoral said that money will probably be used to replenish depleted reserves and pay for equipment cut out of previous years’ budgets.

Moorhead may save a third of its $90,000 snow-removal budget, Public Works Director Chad Martin said.

And West Fargo could see $130,000 in savings, Mayor Rich Mattern said.

“We’ll go into the new year in good shape.” Mattern said. “Who knows, in March, we may get big storms. But so far, things are looking good, really good.”

“It’s been wonderful, hasn’t it? Jeepers!” said Barry Johnson, West Fargo’s director of public works. “It gives everyone a break. Man, it’s been a tough three years.”

But for people who rely on snow – to plow, play on, or otherwise earn a paycheck – this November and December have been a frustrating head-scratcher.

You can count Jesse Klosterman and the crew of Straightline Snow Removal among those scratching.

“It’s definitely slow,” said Klosterman, who landed a couple of big contracts earlier this year, then bought a Komatsu payloader, some buckets for it, a pickup and a new plow to do the work.

“We bought some major pieces of equipment that are just sitting there,” Klosterman said.

“Guys are laid off from the summer into the winter, are definitely waiting on some snow money,” he said.

To keep his six employees willing to stay available, and to help them keep food on their tables, Klosterman is paying $50 a week for them to be on-call.

Klosterman and his crew could be in luck this week, though, as there is a decent chance for snow the rest of the week in the area, but accumulation could be slight.

No snow = slow

Perhaps one of the most common ways to meet strangers in the F-M area is a winter car crash.

Dan Arel and others working at area body shops don’t want anyone to get hurt, but a little snow and ice would mean they could meet some new customers.

“I know we’re not as busy,” said Arel, shop manager At Dahl’s Certified Auto Body.

“Every time we get the snow and ice, you hear about the accidents, and that pays our bills,” he said.

At Scheels Home and Hardware, after a big snowstorm or blizzard, getting a broken snowblower repaired may mean a two- to three-week wait.

Now, the wait is down to one to three days, said Aaron Sunram, assistant manager at the 13th Avenue South store in Fargo.

Scheels has lots of things to sell or fix besides snowblowers, Sunram said, so business is good, but ….

“I’m not going to lie. Snow is a good business for us. We’re doing OK on what we have. … When we do have snow, business is good,” Sunram said.

Oddly enough, the snowmobile business hasn’t been badly affected by the lack of snow, but that’s because snowmobiling has changed, said Mike Hennebry, sales manager at Wheels Inc. in Fargo.

“Most of the people that are buying them are buying them to go out West,” he said. The “mountain snowmobiles” are made to go through deep snow, rather than groomed trails.

“The riding around here is down, period,” he said. “It’s just industry trend. … Your average snowmobile is $10,000 to $12,000, it’s not a family-oriented sport anymore.”

Many of his orders are made in the spring and delivered in the fall, he said.

If anything, the clear roads have determined riders thinking about doing something else.

“We’ve even sold a couple of motorcycles the last couple of days,” he said.

Let it snow

In the spring, summer and fall, Klosterman’s firm lays asphalt on parking lots and driveways, and does sealcoating and striping. So he has some backup.

He expects some smaller operators, heavy on debt and short on cash flow, will go out of business if the winter stays dry.

But one thing would make life right again, Klosterman said.

“It just needs to snow,” he said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Helmut Schmidt at (701) 241-5583