Chattanooga's biggest snowfall in four years cast a wrench in the works for many businesses forced to limit hours and production Wednesday and Thursday when winter weather kept both workers and delivery trucks off the road.
Both Hamilton Place mall and Northgate Mall closed at 5 p.m. Wednesday and other major employers closed Thursday morning waiting on warmer temperatures to melt at least part of the 6 to 8 inches of white powder that made many streets and businesses inaccessible Thursday morning.
"Typically, when closures happen, sales might decrease," said Catherine Wells, marketing director for Hamilton Place mall, which is owned by the Chattanooga-based CBL and Associates Properties Inc.
But as the sun came up and out Thursday, many retailers -- the malls included -- actually saw an uptick in sales.
"Folks are tired of being indoors and want to get out," said Wells.
Some retailers in the snow-soaked Sun Belt actually saw a bit of a boon thanks to the wintry weather, specifically stores carrying winter-oriented inventory.
"We actually sold out our sleds," said Brandon Smith, a sales associate at Hixson's Elder's Ace Hardware.
He said Thursday morning started slow at the Hixson Pike store. But as main and side roads became more manageable around late morning and into the afternoon, folks journeyed out to get tools and toys for the weather.
The hardware store carries three types of sleds and had around 200 in inventory before Wednesday's night snowstorm. Shovels and ice melt also made popular purchases Thursday morning.
"It was one of the busiest days we had," said Smith.
Brian Braig, sales associate at Echol's Ace Hardware on Signal Mountain, said mountain-dwellers also saw a run on sleds Thursday. By 2:30 p.m., all the hardware store's long, plastic type sleds were gone, with many shoppers buying three, four or five at a time.
"The pile just goes down real quick," Braig said. "People starting pouring in, buying sleds and all that."
But more practical items were also in high demand in the snow.
Shovels and ice melt sold out at some stores. Workers were busy Thursday outside of businesses that opened Thursday -- and even some that did not -- clearing snow-laden sidewalks and driveways.
Jim Hawks, owner of Hawks Property Management, cleared sidewalks in front of many of the businesses his company helps manage, including those in Jack's Alley downtown.
"A lot of businesses were closed, but when you manage their property you got to get out and make sure it is ready to open when they are ready," Hawks said. "And when your maintenance folks can't get out or are busy with other projects, even the owner picks up a shovel and starts clearing snow."
Many office employers have coped with the wintry weather during the past couple of weeks by allowing workers to do their jobs at home.
About 20 percent of the 5,300 employees of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Tennessee, or 1,100 workers, can telecommute, said spokesman Charlie Moss. About 4,300 of those workers are in Chattanooga.
"We approach these situations by balancing safety for our employees with the need to continue serving our 3.3 million members," Moss said. "While severe weather does pose some challenges, it rarely slows us down. Our technology infrastructure allows many employees to telework on an as-needed basis, and we have generous PTO and flex-time policies to accommodate employees who need to adjust their schedules when schools close or other situations arise."
At Unum Group, about half of its 2,800 or so employees in Chattanooga can work remotely, and just over 400 of them telework full-time.
"We have a flexible work environment," spokeswoman MC Guenther said. "There are employees, like me, who are able to work from home."
Some folks who did have to get out in the snow found themselves ill-equipped to go walking around in the winter wonderland and keep from getting wet feet.
Kenneth Black, key holder at Boot Barn on Gunbarrel Road, said the snowy weather typically helps move boots and weather, water-resistant shoes.
"Surprisingly, to me," said Black on Thursday, "[people] are still out."
The Gunbarrel store Black runs was actually a test store for Boot Barn, which is based in Irvine, Calif. The Chattanooga store opened in the fall of 2013, with Boot Barn officials' intents to feel out the market.
"We do pretty good," said Black on Thursday.
The store has weathered one summer so far, which saw a lull in business, but weather events like this week's snowstorm helps move winter inventory and offset the slow season, said Black.
"We were selling a lot of childrens' rain boot," said Black. "And mud boots. People were buying those."
Boot Barn is soon opening a store in Knoxville, thanks in part to the Chattanooga store's success.
Contact staff writer Alex Green at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6480.