Snowjam ’82 and the Birth of an Entrepreneur

So it’s 60°F outside and it’s hard to believe that Snowjam 2014 started barely 100 hours ago. It was a bad time for Atlanta, and I am grateful for all the kind generous people who worked tirelessly to help their neighbors and complete strangers. This is a wonderful city.

There are lots of stories out there about what happened and why it got so bad so fast… but this one from Chicago is one of the best. For those of us who’ve been here a while, it reminded us a lot of a previous time when a mid-day snowstorm froze the city into gridlock: Snowjam ’82.

AJC snowjam photo

January 11, 1982. I was a junior at Georgia Tech at the time. I don’t remember how I heard the bad weather was coming — maybe the radio? We still listened to the radio in those days — but I picked up my girlfriend and escaped to Mom and Dad’s house in Buckhead. Gas fireplace, gas hot water, and a gas stove. If the electricity went out, that was the place to be!

Others weren’t so lucky. There’s a great blog at detailing some of the stories. One of my favorites is how the snowstorm saved the brand-new and struggling first location of Longhorn Steakhouse. (The chain was eventually sold in 2007 for $1.4 billion.)

Georgia Tech was in the middle of it, of course, and there were lots of stories about students and faculty trapped on campus. One of my staff, Paul Freet, tweeted this last week:

I asked him to expand on that a bit and here we go: a guest post by Paul on his birth as an entrepreneur.

I was a freshman at Georgia Tech when Snowjam ’82 hit. I was sitting in the lobby of the Kappa Sigma fraternity house when someone came in and told us about all the cars stuck on the freeway. We quickly came up with an idea and two of us made a dash for the Spring Street liquor store, then located at Spring and 8th Street. We bought a case of beer each (beer was $8 for a case of 24) and walked over to the Downtown Connector. This was before they dug it out—it was still easy to just walk onto the freeway then.

We started selling the beers to the stranded motorists for a dollar each. People had dollar bills, and we didn’t have to make change. We quickly sold out and went back for more. Gross revenue $24, cost of goods $8, profit $16. I was a Georgia Tech student; that math was easy! On the second trip, someone asked if we could make a phone call for them, to let their wife know they were OK. (1982 was well before cell phones were common!) So we sold phone calls too. A dollar and a quarter. They would write down a number and a note.

By now there was a short line at the liquor store with Tech students coming for their snow day supplies. So, I went to the pay phone outside and made all the calls while my friend stood in line and bought more cases of beer.

I remember one carload of businessmen driving in from the airport. They had the biggest smile on their faces when they saw me. Bought the entire case. Called me an angel.

I think we made about 8 trips back to Spring Street liquor store until we finally grew tired and traffic started moving a bit better. With our pockets bulging with cash and hordes of extremely happy customers, we headed back to campus.

Paul Freet
Georgia Tech class of 1986

A great story of creativity and quick response to market conditions! As Paul added, “The customer segment and value proposition were quite clear, but we didn’t know those words back then.” I’m happy to share it here, now that the statute of limitations has run out…


  1. And that was back when $1 really meant something! At least, that’s what I read on Wikipedia.

  2. Doing that today might require city approval for a business license, liquor license and a graduate student (or at least 5th year) to make the purchase! Still great story!