Week-long winter storm leaves some Portland-area businesses in a financial hole

At least once a week, someone from West Linn's Sushi Kuni restaurant makes a trip to Seattle to buy imported fresh fish and seafood. This week, owner Agatha Chan said, she took a chance and drove north through a winter storm to receive this week's order.

“We already paid for the order and cannot stop the shipment from Japan,” he said. “It's quite dangerous, but we had to pick it up because we paid an agent to get it through customs and the fish is at the airport.”

However, slippery roads made it nearly impossible for Chan's roughly 15 employees to get to work, and without staff, she can't operate the restaurant. Most of the fish will be wasted.

For Chan, who opened the restaurant in July 2022, having it closed for a week is “a substantial financial strain.”

Sushi Kuni, a new West Linn restaurant located at 21450 Salamo Rd. has been closed much of the week during the parade of winter storms.

“I'm struggling a lot right now,” he said. “With zero income this last week, how am I going to pay the bills, rent and salaries of my workers?”

Thousands of businesses lost sales during the week of snow and ice, compounded by power outages that forced closures and ruined inventory. (Many also suffered storm damage, including burst pipes.) Some, like grocery stores, may see little impact on their bottom lines, as customers who still needed to eat stocked up before the storm and will restock their pantries afterward.

Others, like Chan's Restaurant, will be lucky to see any increase after the storm, let alone recover sales lost during the week-long shutdown.

Todd Ruberg, a Lake Oswego-based senior partner and retail and consumer goods analyst at consulting firm Simpactful, said businesses that tend to be hardest hit during winter weather events are restaurants and small businesses that sell consumer goods. non-essential consumption, such as clothing and other gifts.

“Restaurants are doing worse because you generally don't eat out anymore when things go back to normal,” Ruberg said. “So sales lost during the event period tend to be lost completely. You don’t get any of that back.”

Similarly, small clothing stores rely on steady traffic for their sales, he said, but they also don't have the same resources or manpower as larger retailers when there are weather surprises.

“It is small businesses that are hurt the most. You know, where they pay employees by the hour,” he said.

And Ruberg said January and February tend to be slower months for many businesses. He said a weak January could mean some retailers will have to discount early to get rid of inventory.

That's what Sadie Sifuentes, florist and owner of Quad's Garden flower shop in Fairview, is facing now. Her store has been closed since last Saturday, and last night she put all of her perishable inventory, like cut flowers, up for sale, to hopefully generate some sales, but also to make way for other sorted inventory.

Sifuentes said he had to cancel all of his flower delivery orders due to road conditions and the events he was going to bring flowers to were cancelled. He said he lost a lot of money ordering flowers for a funeral that was postponed to next week; He had to throw them away and will have to order them again next week.

“Our income for the store supports my house, my parents' house and our store bills,” Sifuentes said. “During COVID, we restructured our business and learned different avenues to earn income, but when there is snow and ice like this, it blocks everything.”

Sifuentes said he was preparing to outfit his store for Valentine's Day, but now he's worried that another winter weather event like last year could happen in February.

“If this had happened during Valentine's week, we would have lost much more in numbers. Because think about how much roses cost at wholesale price today and how much we would have to store and hope to sell,” he said. “You don't even know what's going to happen with the weather anymore.”

– Kristine de León; kdeleon@oregonian.com

january winter storm