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Snow was piled chest-high on St. Paul's Grand Avenue and drivers inched into intersections trying to peer around the mounds. But by lunchtime Monday, cars were circling the block looking for parking spots and the checkout lines at stores such as Cooks of Crocus Hill were backing up.
As retailers joined customers in digging out of snowdrifts, many storekeepers and mall managers shrugged about getting socked by a storm so close to Christmas. Stores and many malls closed early Saturday, some by midafternoon. Of the past four weekends, three have included significant snow or ice.
But retailers were optimistic, pointing out that there's still nearly two weeks until Christmas -- plenty of time to make up for lost sales.
"Fingers crossed that we don't get another storm," said Marie Dwyer, co-owner of the Cooks of Crocus Hill stores in St. Paul and Edina.
"I don't see this as being cataclysmic," said David Brennan, co-director of the Institute for Retail at the University of St. Thomas. "If this was next weekend, it would be a serious, serious blow to retailers."
Twin Cities shoppers plan to spend about $680 each this year on gifts, about 7 percent more than last, according to an annual survey by St. Thomas of local shoppers holiday spending. Brennan didn't see the weekend's record-breaking storm as putting a damper on that forecast.
Most retail watchers expect some of the busiest shopping days of the holiday season to arrive this weekend. So-called "Super Saturday," the final Saturday before Christmas, typically is the second-heaviest shopping day, after Black Friday.
If Minnesotans fall in line with national trends, they would have been out shopping next week anyway. Nearly 73 percent of shoppers say they'll wrap up gift buying between Dec. 20 and Christmas Eve, according to a recent survey from America's Research Group.
Unlike national retail chains that can spread the weather risk across hundreds of stores across the country, the holidays are a make-or-break season for many mom-and-pops. As much as 40 percent of sales can come during the November and December selling season.
Time-pressured shoppers, who may now feel the need to power shop under one roof, may be more likely to head to the mall instead of neighborhood retailers where parking is at a premium and walking in snowbanks is unavoidable.
They also may be more likely to head online.
Online sales already are clicking ahead of last year's numbers by about 12 percent, according to comScore. And CyberMonday hit a record $1 billion. Cooks at Crocus Hill said that last weekend marked their busiest online day, mainly because gift certificates are such hot sellers and many want to get them bought and in the mail this week.
The store also decided to extend one of the season's best promotions -- spend $100 and get a $15 gift certificate -- rather than waste it on the snow day.
Just one Saturday left
Kathy McGinley, manager of Ten Thousand Villages in St. Paul, half-joked that the "snow and cold gods" had not looked kindly on her and other small retailers this winter.
"This was a pretty significant Saturday for us -- and we're already down one with Christmas falling on a Saturday," said McGinley. A "friends and family" coupon has started to spark sales, and McGinley said she is optimistic for a good stretch into Christmas.
"You don't want to start running sales on top of sales on top of sales," she said.
Ten Thousand Villages has been around for 20 years, but McGinley worried that the storm could prove fatal to retailers already on the cusp. "That would be tragic."
Kara Simons, Rosedale Center's assistant marketing manager, said retailers need to be nimble and smart about merchandising at this time of year. Traffic at the Roseville mall was up 7 percent on Friday compared with last year, likely because people wanted to shop before the storm hit, Simons said. Still, the boost was lower than anticipated.
"Retailers know that the shopping season, while somewhat predictable, can always have a huge curveball," she said in an e-mail.
Jill Noack, vice president and general manager of the Galleria in Edina, said retailers there also reported a "get-ahead-of-the-storm" feeling from Friday night shoppers. Sunday was busier than expected because the Vikings game got moved and "people were anxious to get out of the house," she said.
Traffic at the Mall of America in Bloomington was down about 30 percent Saturday from what would be expected on a weekend a few weeks out from Christmas, said Erica Dao. The mall expects shoppers to "make up for their missed day of shopping" throughout this week, Dao said, and is gearing up for one of the mall's busiest days this Saturday.
In the end, shoppers often find a way to get that perfect gift. Last year the East Coast got hammered by a snowstorm on Super Saturday, an event met with great anxiety by retailers, experts and journalists alike.
But the storm created a huge last-minute surge of sales -- online. That 18 percent increase in e-commerce, according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, was enough to save the retail season from back-to-back holiday losses.
Jackie Crosby • 612-673-7335