One of the biggest snowstorms in Chicago history has paralyzed businesses across the region.
The blizzard, which dumped more than 20 inches of snow on the Chicago area Tuesday night and Wednesday, will have a significant economic impact, as banks, retailers and other companies that rely on face-to-face contact with their customers were closed Wednesday or struggling to open.
Downtown businesses were mostly abandoned Wednesday morning.
One of the only lights emanating from the Thompson Center came from the Dunkin’ Donuts. The newsstand, the salon, the nail parlor, which usually bustle with commuters from the Clark/Lake stop, were closed and darkened.
Olivia Aguilar, the lone worker at the Dunkin’ Donuts -– open since 5:30 a.m. –- said she too would have to close soon because she was running out of change and the banks were closed. Still, she said, she’d had a steady stream of customers: security guards, CTA workers and stalwart employees from businesses downtown.
“One of the managers from the other Dunkin’ Donuts was like, ‘Are you able to spare any food because we help each other out when we’re running out,’ ” she said. “But I really can’t.”
At about 11 a.m., a downtown rental car company saw its first customer since opening at 6:30 a.m.
Peter Lacey, director of sales for Hunter Amenities, swept in from the cold downtown to return his SUV a day late. Lacey said he was in town from Toronto for several meetings with Midwest hotel chains (his company sells the soap used in guest rooms) and couldn’t get the car back in time because of the blizzard and had trouble finding the rental company this morning in the snow.
“My GPS is going berserk,” he said.
The manager, who himself had commuted in on I-290 from Forest Park at about 20 mph in his SUV, waived the $50 late fee because of the blizzard.
“Everything is closed,” the manager said. “Even the McDonald’s. I don’t think I’ve ever seen that McDonald’s close.”
Macy’s opened its State Street flagship at 10 a.m. and its Water Tower Place store at 11 a.m. The suburban Macy’s stores are closed, said Andrea Schwartz, Midwest spokeswoman for the New York-based retailer.
Walgreens corporate headquarters shut down at 2 p.m. Tuesday and remained closed on Wednesday. The drug stores, however, are open, said Tiffani Washington, spokeswoman for the Deerfield-based company.
GROCERS AND MALLS
Dominick’s reported only one of its 79 area stores closed Wednesday, at 1340 S. Canal. Spokeswoman Wynona Redmond said the company’s Oak Brook headquarters are open, but most employees are working from home.
Jewel-Osco had not planned to close any stores but hazardous weather conditions forced the company to close all of its Chicago-area supermarkets by 10 p.m. Tuesday. Two remained closed Wednesday afternoon, said a spokeswoman said. Of the chain’s 183 stores in Illinois, Iowa and Northwest Indiana, she added, 20 of are currently closed.
Shopping mall owners decided to close for the day to protect their employees as well as retail workers. General Growth Properties Inc., owner of four Chicago area malls including Water Tower Place, had planned to open its shopping malls at noon, but changed its mind last night as it became clear the blizzard would make traveling hazardous, said spokesman David Keating.
Every Westfield shopping center in the Chicago area announced via Facebook that they were closed Wednesday. Gurnee Mills also shut down.
Sears at Chicago Ridge mall is scheduled to open at noon and remain open until 5 p.m. According to the mall’s Facebook page, the Sears entrances will be the only ones that will be be open at the mall. Snowblowers and shovels are at the northeast entrance, in case shoppers were wondering.
Sears said 49 Sears and Kmart stores across the Midwest and South didn’t open and another 62 opened late.
Nine of the 70 Target stores in the Chicago area didn’t open Wednesday, according to the Minneapolis-based discount retailer: Wheeling, Palatine, Algonquin, Rockford, Gurnee, West Dundee, Lake Zurich, Waukegan and Highland Park.
Orland Square closed at 5 p.m. Tuesday and plans to reopen at 10 a.m. Thursday.
In Schaumburg near Woodfield Mall, no stores appeared to be open Wednesday, and the parking lots near the mall were unplowed.
Other businesses held off making decisions until Wednesday morning. Chase, the Chicago area’s biggest bank, said all of its branches in Chicago, Rockford and northwest Indiana would be closed for the day. The lone exception, it said, was its main branch in Chase Tower, which opened at 11 a.m. and will close at 4 p.m. Bank of America decided at 10:30 a.m. to close all of its Chicago-area branches.
Many of Chicago’s largest corporations also closed their headquarters, keeping hundreds of thousands of people at home.
Abbott Laboratories shut down its sprawling headquarters campus in Lake County as well as manufacturing plants nearby. Abbott executives could not remember the last time its local operations were shut down, a spokeswoman said.
Kraft Foods Inc. closed its Northfield headquarters as well as its office in Glenview.
Motorola Solutions closed its Schaumburg and Arlington Heights campuses and Motorola Mobility in Libertyville told employees to stay home.
Several large law firms, including Mayer Brown and McDermott Will & Emery, closed their Chicago offices. McDonald’s closed its Oak Brook campus.
Aon spokesman David Prosperi said: “I did a few conference calls from home that I would have done in my office. We did have little kids in the background from one of my colleagues, and colleagues in London asking how much snow we had. Colleagues who I talked to who made it in either live right downtown or stayed overnight nearby.”
MillerCoors spokesman Julian Green said the downtown Chicago-based company decided to close Tuesday afternoon and began making the rounds to employees around 3 p.m. to discuss travel plans and contingencies. Building management prepared for stranded workers spending the night.
However, Green said, all 400 employees made it home, and MillerCoors employees are working remotely Wednesday. “We’re no stranger to snow with having two former headquarter facilities in Golden, Colo., and Milwaukee,” he said. He added that many of the company’s employees are based “in the field” and accustomed to working remotely. Each desk at MillerCoors has a laptop docking station, and employees are issued iPhones.
“While you may not be able to get the beer to the bar today, we’re still in the business of selling beer,” he said. “There’s a lot of thing we need to do to make sure the beer can get from brewery to restaurants or bars besides the delivery truck driving up.”
Green added that the company uses a complex system to ensure that vendors have a supply to last more than a day or two in the event that delivery trucks are held up.
“We may have a couple of days where it may be tough to get around but we’re confident we’ll still be conducting business,” he said.
Farther afield, Champaign-based Jimmy John’s went to great lengths to keep corporate headquarters open Wednesday.
“We had our farm trucks and tractors and team assembled at 4 a.m.,” founder and CEO Jimmy John Liautau said in a statement. “After digging ourselves out we met at the office and dug it out. By 7 a.m. it was cleared and open,” he sadi, adding that the company sent a plow to free stranded workers or pick them up. “All stores are open in Champaign and we didn’t miss a beat.”
It was unclear however, whether any of the Chicago-area restaurants were closed.
Eli’s Cheesecake Co. kept churning out its rich desserts, though at a much-reduced level, because some of its employees camped out with nearby relatives, stayed in company-provided hotel rooms or trudged through the snow.
“We sort of gave people the option, to see who was able to come in,” said Marc Schulman, president of the Northwest Side company. “People living in the suburbs or on side streets could not make it. But we had a pretty good turnout among our bakery associates.
“One associate walked three miles to work, at 6:30 in the morning,” said Schulman. “We’ve seen this before — people have real dedication and commitment to their work.”
About one-third of the day shift made it to work, and the company expects to produce a couple thousand cheesecakes; usually it bakes 10,000 to 12,000 daily.
“We modified what we were doing … we did some packaging,” said Schulman, who arrived at work 5:30 a.m. “We’ll make it up over several days.”
In addition to commuting issues, the company also had to carry out its sanitation work by flashlight in a two-hour power outage.
But Schulman expects the company to be fully operational tomorrow. Its corporate office and its café, which were closed, should be reopened then.
STILL ON THE CLOCK
But a snow day did not necessarily mean a day off from work. The march of business went on for many, thanks to technology.
Fortune Brands closed its Deerfield office but employees working on the company’s quarterly earnings report, due to be released Friday, were working from home, exchanging e-mails and having conference calls, a spokesman said.
“I think I’ll fire up my snowblower on my lunch hour,” said spokesman Clarkson Hine.
Motorola Solutions said more than 6,000 employees have been using its remote access systems. Jeff Stone, co-chair of McDermott Will, said he had conference calls this morning with offices in China and Washington and Italy.
At Lake Forest-based Hospira Inc. executives, working from home, managed to hold a conference call Wednesday morning to talk about its fourth-quarter earnings. The company delayed the release of its earnings by 90 minutes and executives apologized to analysts and investors listening to the call if they hear “dogs barking in the background” or “kids waking up to a snow day.”
CME Group Inc. postponed the opening of floor trading until 10 a.m.
Some businesses took precautions to remain open. The Trump International Hotel & Tower put about 50 of its staffers up overnight, for their safety and to keep the hotel running smoothly, said T. Colm O’Callaghan, its vice president and managing director. The hotel also has several limos for guests because of limited cab service in the city, he said.
Jason Tyler, research operations director for Chicago-based Ariel Investments said Wednesday was “a productive day” for the firm and that employees were told at 5:30 a.m. to work from home. “Our Investment Committee was business as usual,” said Tyler, “although only one member was in the office and everyone else worked remotely…Call and email volume has been light, so the feel of the day is much closer to a weekend from that perspective.”
If ever there was a day when the local real estate industry didn’t mind the housing market’s anemic sales pace, it was Wednesday.
Like many businesses, local real estate firms told their agents to work from home. Many already do.
Janet Owen, a real estate agent at Prudential Rubloff Realtors, planned to use the snow day as an opportunity to call clients. “It’s a great day to get caught up with people who would otherwise be in a meeting,” she said. “You can almost get ahead of the game on a day like today.”
Prudential Rubloff’s offices were officially closed Wednesday but Owen’s assistant, Lisa Mayotte, spent 30 minutes on a bus to get from her Wicker Park home to the office. At 11 a.m., it was still just her and one other person in the office. “The lights are low, my door is open and I’m blasting my music,” she said.
No one was picking up the phone at most local title companies, either, which could mean delays on any home closing scheduled for Wednesday.
“Technically, if a buyer doesn’t show up to a closing and the seller does, you could say there would be a penalty,” said Mike Golden, co-owner of @Properties. “These days, people are just happy when people close. I suspect everyone will look at this like an act of God.”
Golden was balancing morning phone calls with looking after his children because his wife, already gone a week on a business trip to Europe, was stranded in London and may be able to fly to New York today but her return to Chicago is unclear.
Kathe Doremus, a vice president at Inland Bank and Trust, stayed home Wednesday because the bank was closed for the day. At 7 a.m., she received a phone call for her son from Target’s Wheaton store, asking whether he was able to work. Doremus, who’d been up since 5 a.m. and had yet to see a snowplow come down her street, said she didn’t even bother waking him up.
IN THE NEIGHBORHOODS
In Lincoln Square, Kathleen Deeter, assistant manager of Fleet Feet, said she thought it might be worthwhile to open for a few hours. The store sells miniature chains for the soles of boots.
So she walked to work from her home in the North Center neighborhood. The biggest challenged was getting into the store, which was blocked by a snow drift.
Ace Hardware dealer Jeremy Melnick said his employees managed to open all five of his hardware stores by 8 a.m. There aren’t as many shoppers as on Monday and Tuesday, but customers are still coming in, he said. Not only are they stocking up on shovels, salt and firewood, but they are also snapping up plumbing and electrical supplies to tackle home repairs.
Apparently some Chicagoans see a blizzard as an opportunity to get tan.
A Better Tan, one of the few businesses open on Bryn Mawr Avenue in Edgewater, saw a steady stream of customers Wednesday — much to the surprise of owner Allen Reed.
“I thought I’d just be doing a lot of maintenance today,” Reed said. “But I’ve gotten a lot of phone calls from people asking ‘Are you open,?’
“People want that vitamin D,” Reed said. “It helps with Seasonal Affective Disorder.”
John Reilly, a customer of A Better Tan, emerged from a 10-minute session with a smile. “That felt warm,” he said.
Lincoln Park coffee shop owner Stan Siuta told his staff not to come in Wednesday, thinking business would be dead. He discovered he was wrong about 7 a.m. as he cleared snow from around the shop.
“While I was shoveling, I had people lining up, even before I had coffee made,” said Siuta, owner of Siena by Maria, 2308 N. Clark St.
Business boomed all through the morning, as people who usually go to work stayed in the neighborhood. They chatted about Lake Shore Drive, discussed the lightning the night before, worked remotely — and bought coffee.
So the blizzard was a good thing? “For me, it was.”
According to Jay Heiferman, general manager of AAA Rental in Markham, it filled more than 100 requests for rollaway beds from South Side hospitals, mostly so staff could spend the night.
And the company fielded a spike in calls for — are you ready for this? — spring events, for equipment ranging from folding chairs to Sno-Cone machines.
“People are at home with nothing better to do than think about their weddings and barbecues,” said the Homewood resident. “A day like today also has lots of people connecting with family.”
Heiferman’s business is shuttered, but calls are rolling to employees’ homes.
Still, the storm didn’t keep him or his pals from meeting for breakfast — something they’ve done for 15 years. When they found their usual spot — The Egg & I in Chicago Heights — closed, they moved a half mile south on a near-deserted Dixie Highway to The Skyline, where the coffee pot was on.
“The only vehicles we passed were snow plows.”
RESTAURANT WEEK AND NAVY PIER
Other cancellations: The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau rescheduled tonight’s preview party for Chicago Restaurant Week, which had been expected to draw 500 guests at the Chicago Theatre. The event was moved to Feb. 9.
The Chicago Convention & Tourism Bureau rescheduled the preview party for Chicago Restaurant Week, which had been expected to draw 500 guests at the Chicago Theatre tonight for tastings from 15 participant restaurants. The event was moved to Feb. 9.
The bureau, which runs the event, as well as the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority, which runs McCormick Place and Navy Pier, are both closed today. Navy Pier is also closed Wednesday.
The Wednesday night and Thursday morning performances of Disney on Ice at the United Center have been cancelled.
Ticket holders for the 7:30 p.m. Wednesday show can exchange their tickets at the United Center box office for one of the following performances: 7 p.m. Feb. 3, 9 or 10.
Ticket holders for the February 2 performance who cannot attend on these dates should contact their ticket purchase location for a refund.
Tickets for the 10:30 a.m. show Feb. 3 will be honored at 10:30 a.m. Feb. 9 — no exchange required — or for the performances listed above. If those are not convenient, they similarly can contact their ticket purchase location for a refund.
ONLINE’S ALWAYS OPEN
While brick and mortar stores may take a hit, online shopping numbers are expected to spike. Snowed in people head to the only store that is open -– the Internet, said Brad Wilson, founder of BradsDeals.com.
Traffic to BradsDeals.com spiked 15 percent on Wednesday, with notable upticks in coupon searches for travel deals from sites such as Travelocity and Expedia, Wilson said.
“I think a lot of people are booking trips now to get out of town,” Wilson said.
SNOW EQUIPMENT SALES
Snow blowers are flying out of stores and showrooms in Bolingbrook. The village’s Home Depot and Lowe’s stores were sold out of them by Wednesday morning, and Power Equipment Direct, an online-based store run out of a Bolingbrook warehouse, was nearly depleted from its stash of more than 1,000.
According to the company’s website on Wednesday afternoon, 24 snow blowers were left, with the cost of one ranging from $150 to $2,700.
CEO Jon Hoch said with the recent blizzards on the East Coast and Tuesday’s local storm, the business has more than doubled its sales of snow blowers since last January, selling more than 3,700 last month, compared to 1,100 in January 2010. Hoch expects a nationwide shortage of snow blowers, especially since manufacturers are slowing their production as the snowy months subside.
“The east coast gobbled up all the inventory, and now that Chicago is getting hit, there’s no inventory left,” he said.
DETERMINED TO SHOP
When merchants at Oakbrook Center closed their doors early at 5 p.m. Tuesday, the plan was to re-open Wednesday afternoon after the parking lots were cleared of snow. But the snow kept coming, and by 7 a.m. Wednesday, Senior General Manager Chuck Fleming made the call to remain closed. He spent Wednesday fielding phone calls at the shuttered outdoor mall while overseeing an effort to unearth the large parking lot from beneath the snow.
“This is the first time that I can remember in a very long time that we actually closed all day (because of weather),” said Fleming, citing safety concerns for employees and shoppers. “It impacts a lot of people but it was kind of an easy decision because you have to look at what’s right. This was a big storm and I think everyone realized this is a unique situation.”
Crews had the parking lot snow packed into piles by noon Wednesday, ready to be transported away later in the week. Shoppers still dropped by.
“Curiosity,” Cheryl Warner of Naperville said while seated behind the wheel of her Jeep Cherokee when asked what brought her out. “My daughter and I were bored and figured we’d have free rein of the place. We’re Chicagoans. It takes more than a blizzard to keep us from finding a good bargain!”
Fleming wasn’t too worried about the lost revenue. “People are going to shop,” he said. “They may have to skip today, but they’ll be back tomorrow.”