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Dropping temperatures drive sales of heating supplies in St. Lawrence County

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OGDENSBURG —With temperatures dropping to an eight-year low, sales of portable heating supplies have shot up as people battle Mother Nature seeking warmth at an affordable price.

At Aubuchon Hardware on Route 68 just outside of Ogdensburg, supply can barely keep up with demand.

Manager Brett G. Graveline said Thursday that it’s a constant struggle to stock shelves.

Pointing to an empty space, Mr. Graveline said wall-mounted propane heaters in particular, which cost about $250 each, are flying off the shelves as soon as they arrive.

“We can’t keep them in stock,” he said. “Even our warehouse is starting to sell out.”

This isn’t business as usual.

Regional temperatures in December averaged at 19.3 degrees Fahrenheit, nearly 8 degrees colder than the average for December 2012, according to Nathan Foster, a National Weather Service meteorologist in Burlington, Vt.

“The last time it was that cold in December was 2005,” he said.

For context, the coldest December on record was in 1963, when temperatures averaged 12.1 degrees, Mr. Foster said.

That drop in temperature is driving a sharp spike in sales at Aubuchon.

Mr. Graveline said on average the business sold one wall-mounted heater per week last winter. So far this winter it is averaging three sales per week.

“A lot of people try to supplement their heat with propane because fuel oil is so expensive,” he said.

Electric heaters that radiate heat, instead of using a fan, also are selling out fast at Aubuchon.

With winter being a historically slow season for businesses such as Aubuchon, Mr. Graveline said, the cold could make this winter better than average.

“It’s one of those unfortunate things,” he said. “You hate to see someone having problems at home, but it definitely does drive sales. Compared to last year, we’re way up.”

Other companies, including Massena Plumbing Supply and Route 37 Auto Body, also said they’re seeing an uptick in business because of the cold.

“We’re having dead car batteries and everything. We’ve had all kinds of things going on. Especially diesel cars are running low in the cold. They are hard to run in this stuff,” Route 37 Auto Body co-owner Peter A. Roberts said. “This happens every year, so you can count on it. ... With the ups and downs with the temperature, we’ve been running busy straight through since Thanksgiving.”

Massena Plumbing Supply branch manager Brian Loveless said, “We’re having people with freezing pipes, but it’s the norm. Frozen pipes and a little bit of malfunction on heaters and furnaces are typical. It just comes along with the cold weather each year. It has increased a little bit because of the weather, but it’s kind of the norm when it falls below zero degrees.”

Ogdensburg-based Howland Pump and Supply President and CEO Steve LaRose said he expects to see more business over the next several weeks as parts fail on boilers and furnaces.

Because they are running so much, Mr. LaRose said, “you see a lot of motors and parts breaking because of the cold.”

Johnson Newspapers writer Victor Barbosa contributed to this report.

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