NEW YORK – The harsh winter has been rough for some businesses, but for a lucky few, the frigid weather means more cold, hard cash.
Ace Hardware is having its best winter in more than a decade for snow blower and shovel sales. Waterproof boots are on a long backorder at clothing maker L.L. Bean. And more people are staying home and ordering gooey grilled cheese sandwiches and booze from Delivery.com.
"The concept of a polar vortex doesn't feel good, but it's good for business," said Kane Calamari, a vice president at Ace Hardware Corp.
Much of the country has been in a deep freeze. Only 32 winters have been colder in the last 119 years, according to Jake Crouch, a climate scientist at the National Climatic Data Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.
With more Americans stuck indoors, customers are ordering up more meals and arranging to have their laundry picked up through Delivery.com's website and smartphone app. Sales at the company, which operates in major metro areas such as New York, Chicago and Washington D.C., rose 30 percent in January and February compared with the year before. Orders for soups, wine and vodka have spiked.
People are "trying to stay warm," said Neeraj Sharma, the site's vice president of marketing. "They're hibernating."
But sooner or later, they have to dig out. Sales of shovels and snow blowers have doubled at Oak Brook, Ill.-based Ace Hardware. The company is also shipping salt and other ice melters to southern regions such as Atlanta, which rarely have to deal with severe weather. Total sales are up 20 percent so far this year compared with a year ago.
The bad weather hasn't been so kind to other companies. Businesses that rely on customers to come to them have been hit hard. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy's Inc. said their sales were hurt because of store closures. At one time during January, about 30 percent of Macy's total stores were closed. Whole Foods Market Inc. said shoppers are making fewer trips to its grocery stores.
When people do venture out into the cold, they stock up on products that protect against frigid temperatures. Carmex, known for its yellow jars of lip balm, said sales are up 9 percent over the past eight to 10 weeks from the same period a year ago. Pawz Dog Boots, which makes colorful rubber booties that safeguard paws from salt and snow, said its sales in North American have more than doubled.
L.L. Bean can't make its rubber and leather boots fast enough. The boots, known as Bean Boots, are made by hand in Freeport, Maine. The company hired 40 new workers, but it will take them at least six months to be fully trained.
"We're making them as fast as we can," said L.L. Bean spokeswoman Carolyn Beem. "You can't just increase production overnight."
Ridgewood, N.J.-based Xtreme Snow Pros, which provides businesses with snow-removal services including plowing, de-icing, and hauling, has enjoyed its best winter sales since the business started six years ago. Business is up 15 to 20 percent compared with last year, said Manager Matt Malyar.
"For a company like us, it's been an awesome year," Malyar said. "But it's also great for the workers," who have logged nearly three times as many hours as they did two years ago, when the winter was mild.
When snow falls in Philadelphia, more smashed cars pile into Nigro's Auto Body Repair. Icy roads, gaping potholes and the city's second-largest snowfall in more than 70 years have helped the auto shop's business triple from a year ago. "One guy was parked and a snowplow ripped his car apart," owner Domenic Nigro said.
Vehicles need so much work that the average bill has jumped to $7,500 this year, up from last year's average of $4,000. There are currently 30 cars in Nigro's garage and 20 more on a waiting list. "We try not to turn people away," he said.
A simple errand in the snow can turn costly. Chicagoan LeShele Silas-Armour had to unexpectedly spend $500 to fix damage to her car after driving through an unplowed street. To avoid rough roads, she no longer makes the 20-minute drive to cheaper supermarkets in Indiana and sticks to shops that are closer to her.
Weekly dinners out with her husband and two young children stopped about a month and a half ago. "We stay home and do arts and crafts or watch a movie on Netflix," said Silas-Armour, who oversees government grants at a nonprofit organization. "After you get home and bundled up, you don't want to go back out there."
Other Chicagoans are ready to flee. Online travel company Orbitz.com said Chicago residents, who experienced the third-coldest winter since 1872, booked more trips to the Caribbean and Arizona in January and February. Jetsetter.com, whose customers are mostly on the East Coast, said bookings for the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida, California and Hawaii are up 38 percent from the previous winter.
Others have found cheaper ways to defrost. For $32.95 a ticket, guests at Sahara Sam's Oasis can lie in an inner tube and float by plastic coconut trees in the indoor water park's lazy river. The temperature inside the West Berlin, N.J., theme park is always set to a balmy 84 degrees during the cold months.
"The people over here, they're just over it," said Chris Peters, the park's marketing director. "It's beyond cabin fever." The extra business has given the company its busiest winter since it opened five years ago.
To make the most of the bigger crowds, Sahara Sam's Oasis added two new offerings to its food court. The beef chili bombed with park goers, but the newly added soft-serve ice cream machine is a hit, Peters said.
"They don't want anything that reminds them of what's happening outside."
Associated Press writers Anne D'Innocenzio and Tali Arbel in New York and Sarah Sell in Portland, Ore., contributed to this report.