Snow Coming? Cue the Panic Buying!

The day Winter Storm Juno was set to pummel the city, many New Yorkers raced to stock up on groceries and de-icing salt. Typically, many realized, a tad too late, that they didn’t have waterproof boots or a wool hat, and that they could use warm socks. Storms, like Juno and like the new one that hit the city on Monday can be a boon for retailers, who field urgent calls for snow boots, hats, and gloves.

Retailers say that increased demand for cold weather outdoor gear typically happens with every snowstorm. Recreational Equipment, Inc., better known as REI, is one of the retailers that reported a massive surge in traffic and sales when Juno struck the city.

“Footwear was blowing up like crazy,” said REI manager Michael Martin. “People were very concerned about winter boots so we almost tripled our business in shoes for the one day.”

Last Monday turned out to be such an extremely high-volume day for REI, Martin said, that the store was left with just one brand of winter boots by that night. Customers then resorted to buying waterproof hiking shoes coupled with thick woolen socks.

REI, a $2 billion member-owned business based in Seattle, Washington, has one store in the city, a flagship store that occupies three levels in the historic Puck building in SoHo, with about 140 employees.

REI also almost sold out of hats and gloves that “we were begging for more from the distribution center,” Martin said.

The North Face boutique store just a few blocks from REI reported a similar sales surge.

“Boots, hats, and gloves were pretty much what everybody was looking for,” manager Lenny Wilson said.

One woman called the shop, he said, looking for a size 9 in a certain winter boot and he had to tell her that the store had run out of every single winter footwear for women who wear size 9 by Monday night.

“So many people were coming in at the last minute,” Wilson said. “It’s been winter for about three months now. You just realized you need boots?”

Wilson recommended stocking up on these items ahead of time, as in September, to avoid exactly this kind of situation.

Browsing the winter jacket aisles at The North Face, native New Yorker Douglas Wieser, a skier who works in creative development, admitted he falls into that category.

“Well, it’s like me deciding to buy ski clothes mid-season,” he said. “I’m a giant procrastinator.”

Wieser eventually found a black, breathable ski jacket to supplement the one he currently has.

At the Eastern Mountain Sports store in SoHo, however, manager Nora Larson empathized with these late shoppers.

“What I keep thinking is maybe these are people that are new to the city,” she said. “So many people come and go from this city—they’re here for like December and most of January and it hasn’t really snowed yet, so ‘I guess I’m OK.’ And then they hear from Mayor De Blasio, ‘this is gonna be the worst thing ever.’ But, yeah, as much as possible, buy early if you intend on living in the Northeast in the winter.”

Larson said customers who came to the store on Monday were also investing in hats and gloves but the most popular items proved to be base layers, which were nearly all gone.

“People had to buy what they could buy,” she said. “If they were actually a size medium and all we had was size large, like, well, you know, I guess that’s what you gotta take.”

This is what’s known as “panic-buying”: in this instance, consumers rushing to buy something they need or think they need to survive a weather emergency or natural disaster.

“We do live in New York City; we are gonna get snow at some point,” Larson said. “But it happens every year. Every time that there’s a big storm, people are still gonna come in and panic-buy stuff for the snow.”

Patagonia sales manager Ben Mack recommended buying cold weather gear in September and October. And if you haven’t bought it then, certainly make the purchases before Thanksgiving. He reported that most of their sales for this season came in November so by last Monday, the SoHo store had little inventory left.

“Be prepared for—like all the things you don’t think about until it’s too late,” Mack said. “Have like batteries, headlamps, food and water at home and also have a pair of winter boots — at least one. Even if they’re not really pretty for walking into the office.”

Though customers stocked up on the basics, it wasn’t all needs-based winter wear shopping.

“We had a lot of people requesting to rent our snowshoes and within a couple of hours of opening Sunday, we were all rented out for the rest of the week,” REI’s Martin said.

“We sold out of our sleds probably by 11 o’clock in the morning on Monday,” EMS’ Larson said. The store opens at 10 a.m. every day.

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