Oil Spill Impacts Footwear Stores

NEW YORK — Footwear retailers along Louisiana’s and Florida’s coastlines said the worst oil spill in history could spell trouble for sales.

Storeowners polled by Footwear News last week said they are anxious that BP’s offshore drilling rig explosion, which occurred on April 20, will impact tourism and consumer spending.

“[My staff’s] morale is down,” said Mark Felger, co-owner of Felger’s Footwear in Houma, La. “We’re all concerned with the long-term effects on the Bayou Country.”

Felger added that the local economy is heavily tied to oil and gas production and the seafood industry, both of which are being threatened.

Sales at Felger’s Footwear were starting to recover in the beginning of April from a rough 2009, but they slowed again around the middle of the month. “Our real busy season is back-to-school, which is from July 4 to late August,” Felger said. “We’ll really know the lingering effects of the spill after that period.”

In Pensacola, Fla., storeowners said the city has suffered a slowdown in tourism.

“It has really affected condominium rentals because there have been a lot of cancellations,” said Peggy Woolverton, owner of Mainly Shoes. “[Sales] were doing really well, but then they slowed noticeably in the last couple of weeks.”

Paul Epstein, owner of athletic store Running Wild, predicts that tourism will take a hit in Pensacola and that it will affect his store’s marketing efforts. The shop is a major sponsor for an upcoming triathlon, which now has far fewer participants than he expected.

“Business has been steady, but I’m concerned because most of our promotional events take place now through the end of the year,” Epstein said. “What worries me most about the oil is that it hasn’t been capped yet and oil has been gushing into the coast.”

At press time on Thursday, officials were encouraged by the “top kill” well-plugging measure launched last week; however, they confirmed that the total spillover from the leak has been much worse than initially anticipated.

Farther away from the oil spill, in the Florida Keys, Summerland Sandal owner Pamela Adamany was not overly concerned. The Florida Keys Environment Coalition has gathered more than 3,000 Hazmat-certified volunteers to assist in cleaning up the spill if it should approach the area.

Adamany said Summerland Sandal’s sales have not been impacted by the situation so far.

“We have an influx of tourists right now because they want to get in just in case something terrible happens,” she said. “It’s worrying that it might reach us, but I’m doing my best to stay positive.”

Access exclusive content