WILKES-BARRE — To open or not to open.
That was the question for businesses around Public Square and across Luzerne County as thick, wet snow blanketed the region early Wednesday.
And while the winter storm might have shuttered schools, colleges and some businesses, it wasn’t quite strong enough to stop the flow of commerce, though it did dampen the usual pace.
“We opened late and we’re closing early,” said Bill Scholl, a 16-year veteran deli employee at Circles on the Square, as 4 p.m. drew near.
Circles might have missed a bit of the breakfast crowd, and some of the late-afternoon diners, but Scholl said there was still a lunch crowd, although somewhat diminished.
“I would say it was a good decision to open — I’m sure our customers who came in think so,” he added. But it also required a little extra effort, as with the boss driving in two employees from Nanticoke, Scholl said.
That was the key calculation for many businesses on Wednesday: Would enough staff be able to reach work safely, and would there be customers to justify their presence?
For Frank’s News down the block, there was an added twist: the shop was open as usual at 6:30 a.m., manager Dharmesh Patel said, but a later-than-usual start for Luzerne County Transportation Authority buses meant that many of Frank’s stalwarts, who are transit riders, were absent.
Boscov’s Department Store on South Main Street waited until noon to open, manager Ryan Thomas said, largely in order to make sure the retailer was adequately staffed. Some workers could not make it in, Thomas noted, and the store would rather everyone play it safe given hazardous road conditions.
The store employs between 110 and 115 people overall at this time of year — though not all at one time — Thomas said, and had reached a complement of about 30 by mid-afternoon.
Aside from the cast of regular customers, foot traffic was noticeably down during the day, Thomas said, by 10 percent or more.
At Mimmo’s, another restaurant on the square, owner Mark Bronsburg said he also believed business was down by about 10 percent Wednesday, but that wasn’t as bad as he had feared.
In fact, opening as usual at 7 a.m. probably helped Mimmo’s take advantage of early diners who may have found other eateries, such as Circles, not yet open.
“You’d be surprised how many people were out wandering around in the snow, looking for breakfast,” Bronsburg said.
After 32 years, that didn’t surprise Bronsburg, who said he has closed when flood emergencies demanded, but never in the winter.
Like Boscov’s, the Wyoming Valley Mall opened at noon as plow truck drivers worked to clear the parking lots.
“There’s just a lot of snow and it took them a long time,” said the mall’s marketing director, Joseph Ohrin.
Sears, however, opened at 9:30 a.m. It sells snow tools, and Ohrin said the department store stood to do very well as folks scrambled to get shovels and snow blowers at the last minute.
“Believe it or not, a lot of people wait until a big snow storm to go out and buy that stuff,” he said.
A few stores remained closed for the entire day, Ohrin said.
“We had a few that did not open, I’d say a handful,” Ohrin said. “We do encourage our store employees to work with their managers to determine what’s best for the company.”
Ohrin said foot traffic wasn’t too slow as shoppers braved the roads to shake off cabin fever and look for lingering post-holiday deals.