As thousands of residents across the GTA recover from a massive ice storm, retail experts say Canadian stores could take a ‘significant’ hit in sales during the lucrative holiday season.

Retail experts say the disruptive weather system that toppled trees, blocked roads and left thousands without power arrived at one of the most crucial times for many Canadian retailers.

Dan Kelly, CEO of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, told CTV News Channel that many retailers are feeling the hit this holiday season as fewer customers venture out in treacherous weather conditions for last-minute shopping deals.

Kelly said the storm has caused significant losses to many retailers in Canada.

“It’s the small businesses that I’m most concerned about, but across the board – small, medium and large - bad weather will have affected retail sales. This happens every year to a greater or lesser extent but to have the GTA hit as hard as it was, that’s going to be significant,” Kelly said.

Kelly warned that losses to retailers in the GTA could be huge as many merchants struggled to lure shoppers during the critical holiday season.

“Many, many retailers tell us that the six weeks before Christmas are fifty per cent of their annual sales and if you miss out on a couple of days in the countdown to Christmas, that could have a big impact on a small company,” Kelly said.

“This is such an important season for small business and great concern that many of them will have missed out on this important last weekend,” he said.

While some industries, such as emergency clean-up crews and hospitality services, are seeing a rise in numbers, Kelly says smaller businesses are struggling to make a profit.

“We have seen some positive impacts, for example during the ice storm people going to hotels, so they may have benefitted. But I was just talking to a restaurant owner this morning who said he’s chucking out about $15,000 worth of perishables, on top of that he’s paying his employees, but has had no sales during the ice storm.”

The Retail Council of Canada says that while sales in the month of December normally range between $30 to $40 billion, the massive ice storm that ravaged much of central and eastern Canada could put a damper on sales for many small to mid-size businesses.

Malls feel the last-minute crunch

Big box stores and malls across the country continue to see busy crowds as shoppers look for last-minute deals.

Less than 24 hours before Christmas, Toronto’s Eaton Centre was bustling with busy crowds as last-minute shoppers were seen balancing bags and wrapped presents through congested stores.

“It’s good, it’s hectic, we’re just trying to get last minute stuff done,” said Ria, a Christmas shopper at Toronto’s Eaton Centre.

“We’re spending Christmas in a hotel this year,” said Casey, a father who spent Christmas Eve indoors with his daughter Charlotte at the mall. “We’re making due, hopefully the power comes back on, we’re just killing time”, he said.

More Canadians shopping online

Kelly says that while many shoppers choose to hit the malls the day before Christmas, more Canadians are going online to get their Christmas shopping done, opting to avoid icy roads and holiday crowds.

“We are starting to see every year a little tick upwards in that respect and that has put some pressure on small- and medium-sized firms who are perhaps a bit slower when it comes to online shopping. At the same time, it is a trend that more and more retailers are going for and the numbers are positive. That has a less of a weather-dependent element to it, so it can be a hedge against the bad Canadian weather,” Kelly said.