Businesses tally Leap Day gains, losses

| Wednesday, Feb. 29, 2012

Lunch is free today at Downtown's City Deli, for diners who prove they were born on Feb. 29. Desserts cost just 29 cents for anyone who buys a meal.

Today is Leap Day, the extra day tacked onto the end of every fourth February, and while it can be icing on the cake for consumers, merchants and everyone who buys services or tracks business by the month, experts say it has little economic impact overall.

The 70 artists and crafters who sell art and handmade jewelry through the Downtown's 3G Gallery, for example, will earn extra February commission for pieces that sell today, said Coleen Rush, an owner and artist.

"It's an extra bump, to boost sales for a month that is a little light," she said on Tuesday. For the gallery owners, it's also one more day to conduct business in the Federated Investors Building in exchange for the monthly rent.

That logic applies broadly. Transit riders get extra trips to and from town for their $130 monthly, two-zone pass purchased from Port Authority of Allegheny County. Dwellers in rental housing get an added day for the same rent.

Leap Day stretches the year to 366 days and serves as an adjustment to the Gregorian calendar, which is slightly out of sync with Earth's orbit around the sun. Earth really takes 365 days, five hours, 48 minutes and 46 seconds to make the trip.

Whether today is called Feb. 29 or March 1 is no big deal, Duquesne University economist Antony Davies said.

"There is an extra day in February so, on the books, many businesses will show sales for February that are on average 128 greater than February sales during non-leap years," he said. Still, businesses run up expenses for that extra day; and in the end, all that's occurred is a change in reporting.

Put another way, "If we really did gain an extra day of economic activity because of leap year, then we could get out of the recession by declaring that the next 180 days are all Feb. 29," Davies said. "Six months from now it will be March 1, and we would have accumulated six months' worth of economic activity in one single day."

For an auto manufacturer, today simply is an extra day of sales on a calendar month, said John Schuldt, regional sales manager for Ford Motor Co.

"Over the course of the year it doesn't mean that much, but to an independent dealer it can mean a lot more because volumes are a lot smaller," and there are monthly sales and service department goals.

Wednesday typically isn't a big auto sales day compared to, say, Saturday, "But whatever day the last day of the month falls on is a big day" because of the rush to meet quotas at dealerships, Schuldt said. "They are maybe a little more willing to deal on that last day of the month."

February has been a busy month for Linda Cahill, an independent sales director with Pampered Chef cookware, so having an extra day "is no big deal for me," she said.

Her commission is based on cumulative sales for the month, but Cahill, of Scott, typically spends the last day of each month finalizing orders and printing receipts.

City Deli owners Jim and Libby Calato have owned the restaurant in the Koppers Building for 24 years, but dreamed up the Leap Day promotion just this year.

"We thought it was going to be fun," Jim Calato said. This month's extra day actually might cost the Calatos a little more in rent, because the payment is based on sales volume, he said, but they do get an added boost at Eats Cafe, a smaller space at street level for which there's a standard rent payment.

Both restaurants will run the same specials today. Lunches average $8.79, and today's 29-cent desserts usually cost around $2.

An extended February wasn't on the minds of many yesterday. "I forgot all about it," Dan Slattery of Castle Shannon said. He rents, but isn't impressed by an extra day in the year's shortest month. With Feb. 29, "You still get two less days than a normal month" with 31 days, he said.

Sue McCartan of Finleyville did have the day on her mind, only because she has a sister-in-law with a birthday today. Because her actual birthday happens every four years, "She can tell people she's a lot younger than she really is."

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