Shovel Ready: Nation's Capital Finds Winter Weather Boon and Boondoggle

"You can't just call up and order more. Shipments from Chile are planned months in advance," he said. Keeping up with demand for salt and other winter-weather supplies has been difficult for grocery store chains, hardware stores, and plow owners – many of whom are having an economic boom while the rest of the country struggles.

"Incredible," said Anthony Bishop of Valley Crest landscapers in Clarksburg, Md., whose business is plowing driveways instead of mowing lawns this time of year. "We've had to bring back our seasonal guys who are normally off this time of year."

VIDEO: Winter Storm Pounds East Coast, Possible Blizzard for Some Cities
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Bishop says he employs 80 to 100 workers, who have been earning significant overtime pay to shovel walks, run snowblowers and operate plows across the Washington metropolitan area.

The storm has also been good for small, owner-operated snow removal businesses.

Heather Medlin, who owns and operates Grass Gators lawn care and snow removal with her husband in Westminster, Md., said the demand has been so strong that they've had to turn down new clients.

Lots of calls from people in a hurry," she said. Her husband has hired a friend to help out with the 12 regular jobs they have on the books.

"The best thing is that we've been able to make payments we hadn't expected to make through the winter on a loan for a new lawn mower," she said.

VIDEO: 30 million Americans get ready for a monstrous snow storm.
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Expert: Despite Bright Spots, Snowstorms Are 'Net Negative' for U.S. Economy

While many retailers are reporting strong sales of snow-removal goods, steady food and entertainment purchases are also helping businesses' bottom lines.

Many grocery stores, particularly in the hard-hit mid-Atlantic, say they can hardly keep shelves stocked with staple items. Hardware stores are sold out of shovels, snow blowers and salt. And gas stations are slammed with consumers trying to fill up.

Analysts say beer and wine sales, already up during the recession, tend to spike before and during snowstorms. And some anecdotal evidence suggests condoms have also been in high demand.

Video of a snowball fight in Washington, D.C.
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But do these economic bright spots from winter weather amount to a shot in the arm for our recession-weary economy?

Not really, says Scott Bernhardt.

"Sure, you sell a lot more snow throwers, there's a run on the grocery stores right before a storm, but frankly, who's going to be shopping at Talbot's tomorrow? Nobody," he said.

Many businesses -- from restaurants and clothiers to movie theaters and shopping malls -- decide to close their doors during and immediately after a severe storm, resulting in costly lost revenue.

"It's been a rough week and a half," said Rockville, Md., based caterer Mitchell Wool. "We're having jobs pulled left and right."

Winter Weather Around the World

Bill Kirk, an analyst with Weather Trends International, estimates that the combination of snow storms and frigid temperatures this month could result in retail sales being cut in half from what they were this time last year.

Retailers, by some estimates, already lost $2 billion in sales when a snowstorm hit the East Coast on the Saturday before Christmas. Experts say the financial toll of the latest storms is expected to be worse.

ABC News' Charles Herman contributed to this report.

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