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In Fairfield, big snow means big dough

Published 3:38 pm, Wednesday, February 2, 2011

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  • Fred Pesavento, owner of Hemlock Hardware, and son Scott, the store's manager, pose with some of the winter items that customers can't seen to get enough of this season. Such items include ice choppers, shovels, calcium chloride (stacked behind the Pesaventos) and roof rakes, one of which is partially blocked by an ice chopper in this photo. Photo: Kirk Lang / Fairfield Citizen
    Fred Pesavento, owner of Hemlock Hardware, and son Scott, the store's manager, pose with some of the winter items that customers can't seen to get enough of this season. Such items include ice choppers, shovels, calcium chloride (stacked behind the Pesaventos) and roof rakes, one of which is partially blocked by an ice chopper in this photo. Photo: Kirk Lang

 

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Over the entire winter last year, Fred Pesavento sold about 450 show shovels.

This season, his Hemlock Hardware on Post Road in Fairfield has sold nearly 1,000, and winter's not even half over.

And ice-melt crystals?

"Last year we sold 12,000 pounds the whole season," Pesavento said. "This year, we've sold 30,000 pounds so far. That's on pace to triple last year's sales."

If the relentless winter storm clouds over Fairfield have silver linings, they've been the big surges in revenues for the local hardware stores, plowing contractors, power-equipment dealers and roofers.

The record four feet of snow that fell on Fairfield in January had receipts piling up even before February blew into town Tuesday with yet another storm.

Hemlock Hardware got a delivery of 100 more shovels in at 3 p.m. Monday. They sold out in an hour and 40 minutes, Pesavento's son Scott said.

But with snow piling on roofs as well as the ground, the most in-demand snow removal-item in Fairfield has been the snow rake -- a long-handled implement that drags snow off a roof. Manufacturers based their production in part on the previous year's sales, hardware dealers say, and the result is The Great Roof Rake Shortage of 2011.

Pesavento in past years sold two, maybe four of the tools. "This year, if I had 1,000 I could sell that many," he said.

At Poster's Hardware on Black Rock Turnpike, owner Bert Lello said he started the season with six roof rakes that he called "leftovers from five years ago." He's sold 200 this year, even driving to Rhode Island to pick up a batch there.

Poster's revenues from snow-related items are running three times the typical pace, Lello said.

Sleds and snow tubes have been hot items. The store had sold about 500 of them as of Friday. A shipment of 72 more snow tubes that arrived Friday afternoon was sold out before the weekend was over.

For some, a roof rake would be too little, too late.

Roofer Robert G. Priest said calls in January were three times normal volume for the month, and most involve leaks. With such heavy snow cover, his crews at Burr Roofing-Siding-Windows have to shovel a roof before they can assess the problem.

His Stratford-based firm, which he said does a lot of work in Fairfield, has shoveled off about 25 roofs in the past 10 days and has a waiting list of about 60 more.

Most of the leaks, he said, stem not so much from heavy snow but shoddy workmanship.

Plowing contractors, too, have had a weather windfall.

Michael Pasquarella, who has residential and commercial customers in both Fairfield and Westport, among other towns, said he did as much plowing this January as he did all of last winter.

His company, Lawn Enforcement Landscaping, typically bills customers every 30 days. Now he's billing every 15 days, Pasquarella said. He has three trucks on the road and said his drivers have been working 18-hour days.

His typical fee for a residential driveway is $50, he said, while commercial jobs vary widely.

Some commercial customers pay based on square footage to be cleared, others by the number of inches or snow, some by number of parking spaces cleared.

Still others pay for an entire season -- much like locking in a heating oil price before the season. Customers who did that this year are smiling.

The Town of Fairfield this winter has paid out more than a half-million dollars to private plowing contractors who augment the municipal plow fleet. Costs for this week's cleanup could push that payout to $700,000, said Public Works Director Richard White.

The heavy snowfall is putting more money in the pockets of some public works employees, too. White said many of his men will get overtime pay for a lot of 12-plus hour shifts -- some as many as 18 hours.

"It's not easy money," he said. "It's really well-earned."

Driving for 18 hours is equivalent to driving from Fairfield to Florida, White noted, and on that trip you're not fighting snow all the way.

With the windfalls, however, have come headaches. Just ask plowing contractor Pasquarella.

"The first snowstorm, the transmission went on one of the trucks," he said. That temporarily chopped his three-truck operation to two while dropping a major expense in his lap.

And while the stacks of bills going out fatten up the accounts receivable column if the ledger, getting paid sometimes is a waiting game, Pasquarella said.

With both household and business budgets for plowing already exhausted, some customers will wait until the end of the season to pay, he said. And some will quibble over how many inches were removed, trying to trim their bills, even if slightly.

Money aside, the very acts of stocking shelves and ringing up sales have given some merchants and their staff something to do during an otherwise dismally slow period. That's been the case at Hemlock Hardware, owner Pesavento said.

"Normally in the winter, you're just looking at each other," he said.