NEWS: Warmer winters affect U. heating costs and local business sales

By ELLA CHENG
Staff Writer

Princeton has experienced warmer winters than usual over the past two years, affecting the University’s heating costs and the sales of local businesses.

According to Executive Director of Facilities Engineering Thomas Nyquist, the weather between November 2012 and February 2013 was warmer than that of previous years during the same period, but March 2013 was colder than in previous years. Because of the cooler March weather, the winter of 2012-13 on the whole was cooler than the winter of 2011-12, which saw almost no snowfall.

Both winters were on the whole warmer than those the University has experienced in the past. As a result, University Facilities has not had to resort to heating oil, and natural gas prices have been lower, Nyquist said. At temperatures at or below 10 to 15 degrees Fahrenheit, the University could be forced to spend approximately $2.4 million on heating oil, he said.

“When it gets very cold for extended periods of time, the utility company will interrupt our gas supply, and we have to switch over to heating oil,” he explained. “And that’s a lot more expensive.”

Local businesses have responded to two consecutive years of warmer winters in different ways.

The warmer weather may have contributed to lower sales of winter goods, outerwear and sweatshirts at the University Store, according to U-Store President Jim Sykes.

“This year has been much more challenging than the previous year and actually the years before,” Sykes said. “We don’t know how much of that was winter weather, how much of it was Sandy, how much of it was the economy. It’s so hard to isolate.”

In general, colder years mean higher profits for the U-Store, since sales of sweatshirts and outerwear increase, Sykes explained. He added that he thinks the weather is likely “cyclical,” so no changes have yet been made to the U-Store’s inventory.

Landau, a local family-run shop that sells woolens on Nassau Street, has also felt the effects of the warmer winter periods, store owner Robert Landau said. Its socks sales are down about 40 percent and the store will be holding a sale on Harris Tweed jackets in order to sell its extra stock.

However, other factors have helped to balance out its lower sales on winter items, he explained.

“We’re a lot more diversified than a ski resort,” Landau said. “We get a lot more out-of-towners when the weather is nice and milder. That helps from our standpoint offset what we’ve lost because of the temperature.”

Princeton Farmers’ Market Manager Judith Robinson said the warmer weather did not impact the market’s winter products, since the winter market’s two suppliers use greenhouses to grow their produce, she noted that warmer temperatures may impact the spring produce through an increase in the pest and insect populations.

“If you don’t have a deep enough chill or frost in the ground where insects lay their eggs, you don’t kill off part of the population, and you have a much greater population when they all hatch in the spring and summer,” Robinson said.

The Smith’s ACE Hardware Store, located in the Princeton Shopping Center, sold fewer snowblowers than usual, albeit more than last winter due to more frequent snowfall this year, store owner George Smith said. The store also sold out its bulk salt but did not restock the inventory as it usually does.

However, he explained that the consumers brought by warmer weather may have made up for lower salt and snowblower sales.

Smith said it is difficult to gauge whether Princeton would continue to experience warmer winters. “There’s no rhyme or reason to it.”

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