Snow caused 24 percent sales drop for MASS small businesses

Main Street in Vineyard Haven. — Photo by Peter Cronig

After a strong holiday sales season and amid growing consumer confidence, Massachusetts small businesses experienced an average drop in sales of 24 percent during the recent wave of snowstorms, according to a new survey.

Sales losses for retail and restaurant employers were higher, at 49 percent, as customers hunkered down at home and stayed off dangerous roads and away from a public transit system marred by service woes, the State House News Service reported.

The survey, released last Thursday by the Retailers Association of Massachusetts and other groups, looked at sales between Jan. 26 and Feb. 22. More than 1,600 small businesses responded to the survey, most of them companies with less than $5 million in annual sales. Many larger employers and employers not hurt by the weather did not respond, officials said.

According to Massachusetts Restaurant Association President Bob Luz, sales losses at restaurants were compounded by added costs associated with snow plowing and removal, roof clearing and heating costs stemming from the extreme cold.

The business groups behind the survey, including the Massachusetts Business Roundtable and the National Federation of Independent Business, reported that the drop in sales combined with “only marginal” cuts in payroll costs and “will result in large profitability losses and cash flow issues for the small employers.”

“The results exhibited our worst fears that small businesses have suffered devastating sales losses due to the unprecedented winter weather,” Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said in a statement.

Surveyors asked small business owners about what the government could do to help and they responded with several ideas, including a sales tax holiday, a payroll tax holiday, delayed tax filings, lower interest loans, better snow removal and quicker transportation system recovery.