Balmy Winter Weather Hits Israeli Shops, Ski Resort Hard

Sales at big malls were down 17 percent in the first half of February, as early December’s snowy freeze failed to return.

A natural disaster is how the clothing chains are describing January and February’s warm weather, which has badly dented sales.

The drop is evident everywhere, but it’s worst at the clothing and shoe chains. Sales there were about 10% lower in January compared to a year earlier, and 7.5% lower in the first half of February, according to Retail Information Systems Israel. RIS collects data from more than 2,200 stores around the country.

The warm weather has stung sales at the big indoor malls worse than the strip malls. The big malls showed a 17% decline in sales in the first half of February. In January the drop was about 10%.

For strip malls, January sales also fell about 10%, though in the first half of February the dip was only 0.8%.

“I don’t remember a winter so not wintry since I’ve been in the business,” said a senior executive at a large fashion chain. “Only during the weekend of the December storm did people have the motivation to buy, but since then people have hardly bought serious winter items. Even during the week of the storm we didn’t particularly benefit because some of the stores were closed – in Jerusalem and elsewhere.”

Even when customers buy, it’s usually at the big end-of-season sales, which are not very profitable, said the executive. “We were forced to lower prices to levels we hadn’t expected, with the goal of clearing the shelves, because during Passover we won’t be able to sell the winter goods,” he said.

Another problem: No one’s yet buying for spring, said a senior mall executive.

Israel has only two fashion seasons and only two months of moderately cold weather, notes Tamir Ben Shahar of the consulting firm Czamanski & Ben Shahar.

But many in the business still think the year has four seasons and they can hold end-of-season sales four times a year. This year the season's end started in November, and Israelis bought some winter clothes then, but that’s it.

The lack of a real winter has hit the tourism industry in the north particularly hard. While the Mount Hermon ski site has suffered greatly, most businesses in the north have been stung, from gas stations to restaurants to grocery stores.

The snow-tourists of most years never arrived, and there’s little hope for a recovery this season. If in a normal year 200,000 to 300,000 people visit the Hermon, only around 35,000 have showed up so far.

“This is a catastrophe that affects the entire region,” said Shaul Ohana, the manager of the Hermon ski site. The weather will also have a negative effect on the summer kayaking and rafting season in the north, he said, adding that the site was losing money this year.

As for hotels and bed and breakfasts, in the northern Golan Heights occupancy is some 30% below last year’s levels, while business is a bit better in the southern Golan, said Shmuel Hazan, the head of the Golan Tourism Association.

Nir Kafri