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In Westport, big snow means big dough

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

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  • Elda Velez, co-owner of Westport Hardware, applies names to the latest batch of roof rakes her store secured from all over the country. The demand for roof rakes is so great in Westport, Westport Hardware has a waiting list comprised of more than 100 people. Photo: Kirk Lang;Eliot Schickler, Kirk Lang / Westport News
    Elda Velez, co-owner of Westport Hardware, applies names to the latest batch of roof rakes her store secured from all over the country. The demand for roof rakes is so great in Westport, Westport Hardware has a waiting list comprised of more than 100 people. Photo: Kirk Lang;Eliot Schickler, Kirk Lang

 

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With winter less than half over, Westport snow-plowing contractor James Ferrone's revenues for the season already are at least double what they were for the whole winter last year.

They may even be three times last year's take, he said, but the with five trucks on the road for as long as 22 hours during storms, the owner of James Ferrone Landscaping hasn't had time to crunch the numbers. What he'd really like is a break.

"I don't want it to snow anymore. I've made enough money," he said.

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

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

Like Ferrone, plowing contractor Michael Pasquarella already has at least doubled last year's whole-winter receipts.

Those receipts are piling up so fast, he said, that he's sending out invoices more quickly to keep up with the volume. Typically, he bills plowing customers every 30 days; now he's billing every 15 days.

Pasquarella's Lawn Enforcement Landscaping, which services Westport and other Fairfield County towns, has three trucks on the road, and his plowers have been working 18-hour shifts during the worst storm periods.

At Westport Hardware on Post Road, all the snowblowers are long gone and shovels have been going out the door at a brisk pace, co-owner Richard Velez said.

When winter began, the store stocked 10 different styles of sleds; only four remain.

But the greatest demand has been for an obscure implement that helps prevent roof leaks -- the snow rake. And hardware dealers can't keep them in stock because most of the suppliers have sold out.

"We normally deal with a True Value warehouse out of Manchester, N.H., but they're out for the season," said Velez, who has been working the phone trying to track down more rakes.

He has a waiting list of 100 customers -- name and number after name and number jotted in a spiral notebook.

Other stores in Westport and in neighboring towns are sold out, too, leading to The Great Snow-Rake Shortage of 2011. And that puzzles one veteran Westport Hardware clerk.

George Plaitis has worked at the store for 10 years and hadn't sold a single roof rake until this year. "No one's ever asked me for one," he said.

At Crossroads Hardware on Main Street, owner A.J. Izzo said roof rakes would be his top seller this season -- if he could get enough. His No. 1 seller has been ice melt crystals.

Izzo has witnessed many a winter. At age 73, he said, he's "never seen a winter like this."

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 Westport, has shoveled off about 25 roofs in the past 10 days and have a waiting list of about 60 more.

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

At ground level, snowblowers have been hard to find.

At Crossroads Hardware, they've long been sold out. "We've had people begging us for snow blowers," Izzo said, but the closest devices in stock are lawn mowers.

Westporters who already own snowblowers are creating more work for repair shops.

At Daybreak Small Engine Repair on Weston Road, mechanic Derek Coulson has about 15 machines backed up waiting for attention. In a typical winter, the backlog would be about five machines, he said.

With the heavy snow, snowblowers are straining more, Coulson said. Most of the problems he's seen involve broken or clogged augers or carburetor trouble, he said.

With the windfalls, however, have come headaches and frustrations. 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 of his 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.

Merchants, too, are frustrated because they can't get enough products for their customers.

"It's not fun when you can't find the product and you can't satisfy the customers, said Crossroads Hardware's Izzo. "We're in the service business and that's what bothers us more than anything."

Plowing contractor Ferrone said it's tough to plow when motorists who should stay in are on the roads. In his opinion, to many people in poor weather, are trying to get their children to organized activities and play dates.

"I used to stay home and play in the snow," he said.