Retailers Prep for Hurricane Irene

Retailers Prep for Hurricane Irene
New York pedestrians brave early rainstorms on Thursday.

After a 5.9 magnitude earthquake stunned the East Coast earlier this week, Mother Nature is sending a new obstacle for U.S. retailers.

Hurricane Irene is set to barrel up the eastern seaboard this weekend, which has retailers in the storm’s path forecasting a significant drop in business.

“People are concerned. The hurricane is nothing to play with,” said Iva Hocutt Fearing, owner of Tassels in Morehead City, N.C. “It’ll definitely hurt business because there’ll be no one here.”

Fearing said traffic in her store had been steadily up until Thursday, when warnings of the hurricane got more serious. “[Shoppers] are starting to prepare,” she said. “We don’t have any mandatory evacuations yet.”  

To prepare for Irene, she’ll be pulling displays from the front of the store and boarding up the windows. With the majority of her customers being second-homeowners, Fearing is hoping to recoup the lost sales during Labor Day weekend.

“Hopefully business will pick up as people come back in to check on their properties,” she said.

Located further inland, in Raleigh, N.C., Main & Taylor co-owner Diane Chinnis isn’t too worried about store damage, but wondered whether customers will be willing to go shopping.

“This is a pretty big deal, so people are very busy checking their insurance policies, making sure their windows are boarded up and that furniture is moved,” Chinnis said. “It’s a big distraction for everyone. I suspect people will be more concerned about their lives and property than about buying shoes over the next few days.”

In the resort area of East Hampton, N.Y., Gary Dworetz, co-owner of Sneakerology, said the grave weather reports have already taken a toll on his customer base. “People are bailing out and leaving town,” he said. “Even if [the hurricane] passes or misses us by 100 miles, the forecast alone is going to hurt us.”

Dworetz is preparing for the storm by placing sandbags around his store to prevent flooding.

And in New York, French Sole Comfort owner Randy Ochart is wary about damage to inventory, with two of his three stores situated in buildings older than 100 years. “We always have problems when there’s driving rain,” Ochart said. “There’s a possibility of water damage to the shoes, so we try to take precautions wherever we can.”

Although he anticipates sales this weekend will drop off by 50 percent compared with last year, Ochart said there is a silver lining to the forecasted weather.

“When we know we’re going to get torrential downpours, we put all our wellies and waterproof shoes in the window,” Ochart said. “That’s what people in the streets are usually interested in buying, if they’re out on the street at all.”

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