Wednesday, February 4, 2009

REPORTER BLOG: No Business like Snow Business

By Tony Rawlings

Last week Athens was covered in snow and ice. I mean a good four to five inches of snow mixed with freezing rain that froze completely solid once temperatures dropped at night. Pipes froze, local schools closed, power lines fell and people were without power for days at a time. As a kid from Kentucky, this was the most snow I’d ever seen in one place at one time, save for tv and movies.

Story Time
So anyway during the daily news meeting I get assigned a story about how this week of terrible weather is affecting local businesses and I’m thinking to myself, “This thing is open and shut! It snows, people stay home and the businesses suffer, piece of cake.” But to my complete and total surprise it was the exact opposite, the stores were booming with business!

Breaking The Ice
Setting up an interview was fairly easy, I contacted the Athens Chamber of Commerceand arranged an interview with Chamber President, Wendy Jakmas for the next day, and everything is butter. When interview time comes, I start to get nervous because every bad scenario possible is running through my mind, “What if she cancels? What if my microphone runs out of batteries? Will I get good quotes for my story?” Then I walk in to do the interview and she is the nicest woman you would ever want to meet, which immediately put me at ease. She was concerned about her appearance on camera because that day was casual Friday, so I asked her about her first month as chamber commerce president while I set up, to return the favor of putting her at ease.

Athens Chamber of Commerce President, Wendy Jakmas

Big Business
So with a nice repore established, we jump into the questions. Right off the bat she tells me that Lowes can’t keep generators in stock, and that it is selling them at lower than normal price, instead of gouging like many retailers tend to do with items of high demand. Wal-Mart was getting absoulutely slammed for things like heaters, batteries, salt and flashlights. Hotels are fully booked because people had no idea when their power would be back on and didn’t want to wait it out in their cold and dark homes.

It was a total domino effect, people bought stuff for their homes at stores so stores got business. People couldn't stay at home, so hotels and stores got business. You can’t cook much in a hotel room, so restaurants got business.

Gettin' It Together
So about this time I start to wonder which other angle I should pursue for the story. I knew chain retailers like Wal-mart and Lowes wouldn’t allow me to shoot video inside stores and talk to employees, so that wouldn’t work. Most of the restaurants in Athens are fast food, pizza places or connected to bars, and people eating doesn’t exactly make the best video, so I decided to hit the hotels.

After making some phone calls, I discovered that even some of the hotels were without power, and some that had power, employees were too busy to talk because a satellite had frozen and knocked their computer systems offline, so they were forced to do reservations by hand. And I’m thinking, “Man! Will I ever get a hotel interview for my story?!”

And Then There Was Rob
I called the Day’s Inn and spoke to an employee who was willing to speak on camera about some of the difficulties they were having due to the weather. His name was Rob and he was a pretty cool guy. While I set up he told me that a frozen tree limb had fallen on his truck in front of his house. But he was completely cool about it! I would have been furious.

My man Rob

So we start the interview and Rob tells me that they were also affected by the frozen satellite and had actually lost track of some reservations because of it. He also told me that the hotel had been absolutely overwelmed for the past four days and that nearly all 60 rooms had been booked at some point or another. He said that every employee had been working around the clock to get people in and out of rooms. Vacuuming, changing sheets, folding towels, and answering phones, these people were busy! He informed me that some employees also had to stay at the hotel because they had either lost power at home, or didn’t want to risk driving on the icy roads.

Weather Business Package

Final Thoughts
So at this point I’m thinking, “Wow, this is rough all the way around. People are without homes, without power and relying on all of these businesses and the businesses have to accommodate the needs of all the people while dealing with the same weather problems that plague everyone else.”

Prior to doing this story, I never really gave much thought to how the weather affects business. If you’re hungry, you eat. If you need groceries, you shop. But when everybody’s hungry, where will they eat? If everyone needs groceries and supplies, where will they shop? Who will have to serve, house and ring up all of these consumers who were suddenly in need of so much, so quickly? These were the questions bouncing around while I was putting the story together. It made me appreciate the fact that my power was working and I wasn't forced into the last minute consumerism chaos as so many others were. I also thought about the road and power crews that would spend long hours in the cold working to restore power to those without.

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