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No business like snow business

We talked to a guy who is raking in the cash thanks to all this snow

Crews remove snow near the St. Marys Street Green Line stop.

Nicolaus Czarnecki/Metro

Frankie Ippolito Jr is one of the few Bostonians delighted with all these feet of back-breaking, MBTA-crippling, commute-complicating, school-cancelling snow.

That's because his South End-based Ippolito Snow Services business is booming. For the last month, the business is nearing $450,000 in sales. During a typical winter, he usually does closer to $150,000.

"It's amazing," said the 43-year-old.

His crew of about 20 has been working in around the clock shifts digging out 87 properties throughout eastern Massachusetts, including Boston, Chelsea and Everett. They shovel sidewalks, clear high-end properties in the Back Bay from first flake to last and use a fleet of eight trucks to clear parking lots and driveways.

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He said the demand for snow removal is so high, he's having contractors come in from Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania who own equipment to help with his jobs. There simply isn’t enough Bobcats and snowplows in the state to handle everything.

"They have no snow where they live and they want to make money," Ippolito said.

The snow removal business has been in his family for three generations. His father, the now deceased Frankie Sr, plowed during the blizzard of 1978. He was contracted by the city of Revere and kept the parking lot to Revere High School, which was being used as a shelter during that once-in-a-generation storm, open.

While many snow removal businesses double as construction or landscaping operations in the warmer months, Ippolito said his family doesn’t “have any other business.” He said the work typically attracts a lot of commercial fisherman and college students.

Recently, he said, the work has been typified by “complete and utter exhaustion.”

He said he’s been trying to have his crews work in shifts. He rented out a block of rooms at a hotel in Mass Ave for his workers because “I don’t want guys wasting time, so they just keep cycling in and out of the hotel.”

He said the worst part of the job is disappointing a customer.

“Everyone wants to be first but it’s not financially possible,” he explained.

The best part?

“Doing the work is a lot of fun,” he said. “I love it when the city’s quiet late at night. It’s quite beautiful in the snow.”

Snow removal can be costly.

Following this latest storm, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said snow removal for this season was about $30 million, far exceeding the $18.5 million that had been allotted for the winter.

The city uses about 500 private contractors, but it was unclear how much of the estimated $30 million went into their pockets; the mayor’s office said the situation was fluid Tuesday and wouldn’t specify a range of hourly rates for such contractors, saying it differed from contract to contract.

In Worcester, a city recently named the snowiest city in the U.S., hourly rates for privately contracted snow removal and road treatment equipment can top $100 or $200 per hour, depending on the kind of equipment and the job, said Owen Ruud, who for seven years has been working as a contracted snow plow driver.

Ruud said he recently worked from Sunday at 9 p.m. until Monday at 7 p.m.

“That’s a long shift,” he said. “They pay you well for your services. They know it sucks, they know you’re out there working hard. They definitely take care of you.”

The idea is to clear enough of the roads so that two emergency vehicles can fit down the streets, he said.

Ruud, who runs his own excavation business during the warmer months, usually drives a front end loader and is followed by two pick-up trucks.

“I go through and smash all the heavy snow back,” said the 29-year-old Hubbardston resident. “And the two pick-ups follow me and clean up the mess.”

Yes, he said, he loves the snow.

“It’s not only the money but I like snowmobiling and snowboarding. I still love it. I look forward to it,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong, the money’s nice, but I do enjoy it.”

The worst part?

“With this much snow, everyone’s frustrated. Some people are really mean about it. They think we’re trying to plow in their driveway. I have to tell them ‘This is what I’m contracted to do.’”

 
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