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Snowstorm brings winners and losers

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Buried squad car
A Minneapolis squad car parked alongside City Hall lies buried in snow three days after a winter storm dumped more than 16 inches of snow on the Twin Cities. The city has declared a second snow emergency beginning Dec. 13, 2010 at 9:00 p.m. with no parking on snow emergency routes.
MPR Photo/Sasha Aslanian

As the Twin Cities shovel their way out of the weekend's historic blizzard, there are some clear winners and losers.

The losers include cities, businesses, and landlords whose budgets are strained by the cost of all that snow to plow -- and all the rest of us dealing with messy streets, rutted alleys, and missing mail deliveries.

But the monster storm has been a blessing for an entire industry that is thriving on the area's fifth-largest snowfall.

While nearly every other Minnesotan is complaining about you-know-what, Brad Lano of Lano Equipment is almost breathlessly excited about it.

"I love the snow. I hope it snows four to six inches this weekend," said Lano. "That means more plowing, more snow. It's fantastic. It'll be a great winter."

Lano's company sells and rents construction equipment, such as skid-steer loaders, that build homes in the summer -- and push snow in the winter. Many of his customers are landscaping companies that supplement their income by plowing snow in the off season.

Since the snow started to fly, Lano has noticed the most significant surge in sales he's seen since the Halloween blizzard of 1991.

"It's doubled, maybe even tripled, on what we'd normally see on Dec. 10-13," said Lano. "Today, as I speak, we're completely sold out of snow blowers, completely sold out of snow buckets. And every 15 minutes I've gotten calls, looking for one of those items."

Jefferson and Snelling avenues
Bus stop at Jefferson Avenue and Snelling Avenue in St. Paul, Minn., on December 12, 2010, the day after the city received over 17 inches of snow.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

It couldn't come at a better time for Lano Equipment and other companies that had a rough year because of the economic downturn. 

At the Frattalone Ace Hardware on Grand Avenue in St. Paul, customers looking to buy a top-of-the-line snow blower will have to wait.

Salesman James Zellmer says he sold eight $2,000  machines on Friday, before the first snowflake touched the ground. The high-end blowers have been placed on back order.

Assistant store manager Dave Lansing says even plastic shovels sold out in three days. 

"They all break with that kind of snow. That's the deal. You always need two," he said.

Customers are also coming in to buy hats and gloves, ice melt, sand, and even fun stuff: snow sleds.

Navigating snowy sidewalks
A pedestrian makes her way down Snelling Avenue as a vehicle receives a tow in St. Paul, Minn. Saturday, Dec. 11, 2010.
MPR Photo/Jeffrey Thompson

But now the challenge for many snow-moving contractors is where to put all of that snow. With the bitter cold continuing, there's no telling when it will melt.

The city of St. Paul has begun hauling huge piles of snow from downtown to one of its maintenance yards, and officials say they may need to bring them to other sites, such as Midway Stadium. 

Bill McPhillips of Inver Grove Heights took the unusual step Tuesday of advertising on Craigslist a secluded patch of land he owns. He's marketing those 22 acres as a place to dump the snow.

"A buddy of mine was telling me that he was looking for snow shovelers and found a bunch on Craigslist. And I thought, 'Gee, maybe I should put my snow dump site on there.' I'd be a rich man if I could fill it all," he said.

McPhillips says he charges snow-moving contractors about $10-$20 a load. He's gotten no takers yet from Craigslist, though.

The online site was rife with several hundred snow-related postings since Friday. Besides the call for shovelers and plows, some homeowners were looking to hire people to remove ice dams collecting on their roofs. 

Ryan Grambart of Coppersmith Gutter Company in Maple Grove says he's getting hundreds of calls a day from people worried about the weight of five-foot-high drifts on their roofs, or experiencing water leaking from ice dams.

"I shut my phone off during the day, and I try to return phone calls in the evening," said Grambart. "It rings so much that it's just really hard to keep up with it."

The snow is having a ripple effect on other industries, too. Rental cars are in short supply. That's because so many people whose vehicles were damaged from accidents on icy roads have already rented many of them. One Minneapolis rental car company noticed more customers renting SUVs to get around.

In addition, the U.S. Postal Service said it had a hard time delivering mail right after the blizzard struck. About half of Twin Cities residents did not get their mail Saturday, said spokesman Pete Nowacki in Minneapolis.

"We're not going to be delivering to a place if it's dangerous and icy around the box," he said. "Or, in the case of a curbside box, if we can't reach that box, we're not going to have carriers climbing up snow banks trying to put mail in the boxes."

Nowacki says the carriers have been gradually getting back into their routines as the roads have improved, and says they should be at full force Wednesday.

(MPR's Molly Bloom contributed to this report)