Merchants, hotels slash prices for the intrepid

Discounts beckon to those who brave wintry outdoors

February 06, 2010|By Gus G. Sentementes and Lorraine Mirabella

At the Diamondback Tavern this weekend, more snow means cheaper drinks.

Hoping to drum up business during what could be the most severe snowstorm this winter, the restaurant and bar in Ellicott City is dropping prices on beer and liquor with every 6 inches of snowfall. At 18 inches or more, patrons can swig shots of Jagermeister, a potent herbal liqueur, for $1.

"Measurements will be made at the front door, so get your snowshoes on and come on down," tavern employee Jessica Livolsi said.

Other Baltimore-area businesses are offering deals during yet another weekend snowstorm. Bars, restaurants, storefronts and hotels have been stung twice already by snowy weather over what are usually the busiest days for the hospitality industry. Restaurants and hotels have been particularly hard hit as the snow prompts a steady stream of cancellations.

That's why many of these businesses are fighting back by offering snow-related discounts in hopes of luring consumers away from the comforts of home and through their doors to spend some money.

Some restaurants have extended their Restaurant Week specials into next week in hopes of drawing patrons out after the roads are cleared.

And several Baltimore-area hotels are offering "snow emergency rates" for the weekend.

To attract customers to his Nouveau Contemporary Goods in Belvedere Square in North Baltimore, owner Lee Whitehead increased an existing February sale to 25 percent off everything in the store, including furniture, linens, lighting and artwork. He announced the storm discount Thursday night with an e-mail blast to more than 2,000 past customers.

"The snow has ruined our weekends," Whitehead said. "If it does it again [today], this will be our third weekend."

He doesn't want a repeat of what happened late last year. The big snowstorm a few days before Christmas "was pretty devastating for December sales," he said.

Doubledutch, a women's clothing boutique in Hampden, doubled its usual "First Friday" monthly discount to 20 percent and saw a steady flow of customers all day Friday, according to sales assistant Molly O'Connell.

"The vibe is the same. People have been coming out pretty strongly," she said.

Winter weather experts and public officials routinely warn residents to stay home during snowstorms for their safety. Yet neighborhood bars and restaurants are desperately trying to entice people out with snow specials. Many city neighborhood bars are offering discounts, and using Facebook and Twitter to promote the deals.

Blue Agave restaurant in Federal Hill extended its happy-hour specials and let people know via Twitter. Emma Connor, the restaurant's marketing coordinator, said the business benefited in December from a nearby snowball fight that was organized through Twitter - about 50 people came to the restaurant afterward for drinks.

"We discovered it's a good market for us on these days," Connor said. "People in the neighborhood do get cabin fever and want to get out."

Nonetheless, about 50 percent of the restaurant's dinner reservations have been canceled in anticipation of the storm, she said. Typically during big storms, the Blue Agave bar is busier than its food service, she said.

"It definitely takes a hit on our restaurant," Connor said.

Some hotels are advertising rates as much as half off the regular price. But hotel managers said the snow-related bookings probably would not make up for lost business and cancellations because of the storm. All this comes during what is typically a slow time of year.

Still, some hoteliers said they could see a strong response from people expected to be stranded in the city or traveling through and in need of a place to stay, as well as from workers at area hospitals and businesses that stay open during the storm.

On Thursday, the Inn at the Colonnade, a Doubletree hotel on West University Parkway, sent an e-mail blast to local hospitals advertising a $59 nightly rate. By Friday those rooms were sold out, mostly to doctors and nurses, said Steve Nyitrai, general manager.

The Harbor Magic Hotels offered a $69-per-night special at the Pier 5 Hotel at the Inner Harbor and Brookshire Suites downtown on Friday and today.

"There's going to have to be emergency personnel and people who can't leave and get stranded," said Bruce Leaver, general manager for the hotels, who notified area hospitals and downtown businesses of the discounted rates by e-mail Friday afternoon.

Springhill Suites by Marriott downtown on East Redwood Street also was running a $69-a-night special for the weekend. Jason Curtis, the hotel's general manager, said the hotel might draw local residents if they lose power.

But he said the hotel is already looking ahead to the weekend of Feb. 14, a big moneymaker for the industry. By then, "everyone will have cabin fever and will be trying to get out. Hopefully, Valentine's will be a success," he said.

Preliminary weather forecasts for next weekend indicate a snow shower is possible.



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