- The Washington Times - Friday, December 6, 2002

Local hardware and grocery stores reported high customer traffic and sales this week as patrons stocked up on winter staples to prepare for the snowstorm that hit much of the East Coast.

Stalcup Hardware, a store in McLean, was running out of shovels and snow sleds by noon yesterday from shoppers taking advantage of a snow day, said general manager Les Neil.

"We've been doing a fair amount of business today, probably half as much as Wednesday," Mr. Neil said. The storm dropped several inches of snow in the Washington area before ending yesterday afternoon.

While Mr. Neil said he expected higher sales in winter merchandise, such as shovels, ice scrapers and ice melters, he was surprised by the boost in Christmas merchandise sales, already 25 percent higher than last year.

"The weather has been a big factor in making it feel like the time to shop for Christmas things, so shoppers getting winter stuff are more inclined to by things like lights, outdoor ornaments and trees," he said.

Bigger hardware chains such as Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse said customers were buying more heavy-duty items, including power generators, kerosene heaters and chain saws.

Matt Van Vleet, Lowe's spokesman, said the central supply center had sent out 16 truckloads with 245 generators to stores in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas.

"This surge in sales for these items is something we expect when we get a big storm," Mr. Van Vleet said.

Supermarkets also saw the predictable throng of customers looking for storm staples including milk, bread and toilet paper.

Craig Muckle, Safeway spokesman, said he ended up heading to a 7-Eleven on Wednesday evening after seeing the depleted milk shelves at a Safeway store in Bowie.

"A lot of this activity comes with the first snow of the year and people expecting to be in their homes for days on end," Mr. Muckle said, adding that Safeway stores reported higher than usual customer traffic yesterday.

"All of this will settle down by the weekend," he said.

Even though many Washington-area residents got the day off work because of the bad weather, they weren't willing to brave the elements to catch up on their holiday shopping.

Most local malls said traffic was down. The crowds picked up slightly by late afternoon, but were still well below normal levels, mall managers said.

"The weather is supposed to clear up by the weekend, which will be good for us. Unless the sky opens up again, we'll be ready to do business," said Karen Geary, general manager of the Mall in Columbia.

Chris Baker contributed to this report.

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