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Published March 23 2012

Mild winter, flood forecast leave spring in business owners' steps

Things just aren’t the same this spring at the Mac’s Hardware store in Fargo.

“It’s very quiet,” said store manager Glenn Metzger. “Generally, we’re running around trying to gather up pumps or prepare different things for flood-related problems. … It’s a little different.”

Following a mild winter, the flood forecast is sunny in the Red River Valley. This year marked the first time since 1992 that the spring crest was below minor flood stage in Fargo.

And while there are some companies that gain business during a flood, even they seem to be just fine with a dry spring.

“Your sales do go up” during a flood, Metzger said. “But if you had to depend on a flood every year to make it in business, you’re in trouble.”

And to hear him tell it, the boost isn’t as much as you might think. Having merchandise shipped overnight costs extra. There are also additional employee hours to pay for.

“When it’s all said and done at the end of the flood and you add it all up and figure how much you made, it’s not all that much,” Metzger said.

And there’s a human toll to pay, too. It’s “very stressful” for the employees, Metzger said. And that includes him.

“Two years ago, when we had that big flood, I never got off the phone for 10 hours,” he said.

The Moorhead Ace store at 20 6th St. S. gets a bump from flood business, but store manager Dick Popp also thinks flooding can force residents to delay normal spring projects or bypass them as they put the cash toward flood-related expenses.

Not so this year, however. With the mild weather, the lawn and garden section has been hopping. This March has been better than that of a typical non-flood year.

And Popp is fine with that whole scenario. He said he’d rather get his business from people taking care of “normal spring projects than having to worry about fighting the flood.”

Wanzek Construction, with headquarters in Fargo is one of the companies involved in area flood mitigation projects.

“Certainly we look at it as an opportunity as projects arise,” said Jason Kaufman, Wanzek vice president. “It doesn’t have any kind of a negative impact on us. We don’t plan or book for this type of (flood-related) work.”

Craig Whitney, president and CEO of the Fargo Moorhead West Fargo Chamber of Commerce, sees the flood outlook as a win in a couple of ways.

“When you have a serious flood, you’re hurting commerce, and the ability to move commerce,” Whitney said. “You’re affecting people’s ability to get to work to make money. And, of course, retail businesses suffer when and if they’re forced to close down for any period of time.”

From an economic development standpoint, a floodless spring means the nation isn’t inundated with media images of North Dakota under water. Whitney sees that as a plus too.

As for the home construction sector, the vibe sounds positive. Terry Becker, president of the Fargo-Moorhead Homebuilders Association, senses an eagerness to start projects. And the lack of a flood is a big part of that.

“Just talking with people, just even at the home show less than a month ago, people are out looking,” Becker said. “They want to do stuff. They’re ready to do things. They’re just excited about getting projects going now.”

So is there a downside in losing some of the construction business that a flood can bring?

“You know I’m not going to call that a down side at all,” Becker said. “As a builder, you just have to feel compassion for anybody that does get flooded. And that’s not the type of work that we thrive on.”

And any lost business is “more than made up” for with business they gain, he said.

“There is no negative to it anywhere,” Becker said with a laugh.

It’s hard to imagine that the unflood of 2012 could be anything but positive news for retailers and restaurants. Nancy Nerland, owner of the Moxie Java coffee shops in downtown Fargo and downtown Moorhead, is pleased with this year’s flood news.

When it floods, “everybody’s busy elsewhere,” she said.

They’re protecting their homes and the homes of others. It can also mean reduced hours. Beyond the business, there’s also the human factor.

“It’s less stress on the city and people and employers and employees and people who are trying to save their homes,” she said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Shane Mercer at (701) 451-5734