Winter woes may forecast more business hardships

McALLEN — Although it will likely take until April for a firm grasp on how this week’s winter weather and associated outages affect local businesses financially, local experts predict the crisis will certainly be the latest in a string of economic hardships to pummel the business community over the last year.

McAllen Chamber of Commerce President Steve Ahlenius said retail sales numbers, which will likely provide some insight on what impact the weather had economically, should be available in six to eight weeks.

Even without the numbers, Ahlenius says it’s clear that restaurants and retailers will be impacted.

“I think everybody suffers in this,” he said. “Obviously, businesses when they lose their power they’re not open, they’re losing that opportunity to do business, so it has an impact.”

That impact is likely to be both psychological and financial, Ahlenius said.

On one hand, he said, a week’s worth of power outages are just the latest hurdle for business owners that have spent almost a year jumping hurdles.

Simply put, they’re fatigued.

“We’ve, I think as a society, absorbed a lot of blows because of the pandemic,” he said. “I think businesses have absorbed a lot of blows because of the pandemic, and now you add this on top of it. I get a sense from people that they’re getting stressed, that they’re getting to the end and getting stressed about what else can keep happening.”

On the other hand, the weather robbed many businesses of a week’s worth of income, a loss made more significant by ongoing economic fallout from the pandemic.

Ahlenius said in McAllen airline boardings are down 55% and bridge crossings are down by 53%. There’s been a drop in retail sales, and even businesses who successfully converted to online models found that revenue stream damned up when their power went out Monday.

“It’s just one more thing that we’re gonna need to overcome,” Ahlenius said.

The longevity of the latest crisis is likely to compound both the psychological and financial repercussions from the storm, Ahlenius said.

Valley residents are conditioned for 24-48 hour shutdowns after hurricanes, he said, but they’re not used to shivering in the dark for a week.

And it has an impact that on top of COVID-19 and everything else we’ve gone through is just another one of those situations that we’re going to have to power through over the next four to six weeks.

“Obviously the longer it goes on the bigger ripple it makes in the economy,” he said.

Despite the latest challenges, Ahlenius said he’s optimistic about the area’s business future. Every vaccination is a step toward reviving the local economy, he said, and the latest McAllen chamber survey presented a positive forecast.

Nonetheless, the struggle in the business community continues — the way it has for just shy of a year now.

“I keep telling folks, just hang on, just hang on another three or four months, we’re gonna get to the end of this. More and more people are going to get vaccinated, we’re going to be able to get back together again and things will return to normal,” Ahlenius said. “But man, it just seems like it’s one gut punch after another that we’re dealing with.”