Many Naperville residents are counting the days until spring, as meteorologic winter’s final six weeks wind down.
Temperatures have run below normal, and snowfall considerably above it, since the season began. That has translated to multiple school cancellations, early closures for businesses, and unforeseen days off for government employees.
In a sense, the unusual conditions have created some notable winners and losers. It’s been a decent year, for instance, in the plowing industry. After spending just $5,344 on contracted snow plowing last winter, the city of Naperville is facing an expense of up to $573,250 this time around.
For plowing contractor Steve Miller, the season has brought a welcome reversal of fortune.
“The last two years were pretty bleak in the snow business,” said Miller, who has owned his eponymous Naperville business since 1979. “What’s interesting now is it’s so costly for everybody, they don’t do it as much.”
Rock salt has almost doubled in price over the last three or four years, Miller said, and his other fixed costs have shot up as well, including insurance and other materials.
The frequency of “Alberta Clipper” weather events has brought in an inch or two of snow every few days, Miller said.
“It’s like boom-boom-boom, so you get hit with these multiple situations, which you have to respond to,” he said.
Employees in Miller’s shop, and those on maintenance detail, have been working overtime all winter, he said, and he has hired additional staff to keep “fresh crews” running the plows.
“It’s been a heckuva, heckuva year,” he said.
With road conditions resulting in an uptick in minor collisions, towing businesses are keeping plenty busy this season — in some cases too much so.
“It’s been a tougher winter than we’ve experienced in a long time,” said Vicky Howard, who owns Naperville Towing with her husband Bill. “This is certainly as bad as I remember in the ’70s.”
Bill Howard, who started the company in 1979, has been involved in towing for nearly all of his adult life. The record-setting 80.6 inches that fell on the Chicago area during his first season in business was “a cakewalk compared to this one,” he said.
“It’s been kind of a disastrous winter for us,” said Howard, who’s had tow trucks involved in two serious accidents over the past few weeks. One of them, which occurred Jan. 27 on Interstate 88, claimed the life of a tollway worker and badly injured a state trooper. The tragedies compounded what already was shaping up into a challenging season for Naperville Towing.
“What people don’t understand about our industry is it costs us a ton of money to be busy like this, and the expenses come right now,” Howard said.
Fuel costs, insurance, tire wear and tear, extra maintenance costs and staffing have all contributed to the strain on his business operations.
“I’m not happy about this winter. It’s just about killed us,” he said. “We’re day by day waiting for April to come.”
The work load has been up sharply for local body shops as well.
“As far as money wise, I know we are doing a lot better, but I’m not sure what the numbers are,” said estimator Ryan Perry, who was working Saturday morning in the Naperville location of Collision Centers of America. Many body shops are closed on weekends.
The company’s 26 locations have added about 10 percent more staff to meet the need created by the increase in accidents on the region’s slippery roads, and backlogs have arisen because of that volume. Perry said appointments for body work on vehicles that remain dented but drivable are currently available no sooner than the last few days of February.
For some who do business in Naperville, spring can’t come soon enough.
“It’s miserable,” said Dick Wehrli, owner of Naperville Excavating, which has seen business slow down sharply with the cold. “It’s very, very limited.”
The only work moving ahead at near-normal pace right now, Wehrli said, is a large construction project for O’Reilly Auto Parts on North Aurora Road.
“There’s three foot of frost, so there’s very little digging,” he said. “There’s a few houses going up, which is great to see, but it’s difficult this time of year.”
He echoed other business owners’ lament about the inflated costs of doing business.
“The cost of some fuels have tripled in the last 30 days,” Wehrli said. “Tripled.”
It’s the toll being taken by workers, however, that he sees as this winter’s cruelest impact.
“I would say the biggest hit is on the unemployed people,” he said.
Some of his employees work on seasonal rates, Wehrli said, but the company is still having to cut hours substantially.
“It’s got to affect the unemployment rate, the weather has,” he said.
The weather apparently has muffled the scream for ice cream, too.
“We were busy, up until we hit those really negative (temperature) days,” said Amy Stemper, manager of Cookie Dough Creations in downtown Naperville.
The dessert-forward store didn’t open at all on the deeply subzero days that came in the first week of January. On other very cold days, Stemper said, the crowds have been pretty thin.
“We’re not as busy as we usually are,” she said.