Retailers Back in Business After Hurricane Irene

Retailers along the East Coast are looking to pick up the pieces in the wake of Hurricane Irene.

The weather system that made its way from the Caribbean to New England this past weekend resulted in net losses for stores in the storm’s path. According to weather research specialists Planalytics. 80 million consumers were within 200 miles of the eye of the storm at some point over the past week.

As weather conditions now begin to clear up, shop owners are evaluating their losses and hoping to get things back in shape before Labor Day weekend.

“[Irene] was really costly as far as sales volume,” said Benny Hopkins, owner of Powell’s Point, N.C.-based Sound Feet Shoes. “We’ll probably drop between $200,000 and $250,000 over the course of this week.”

Two of Hopkins’ seven North Carolina stores were still closed at press time due to mandatory evacuations, and the owner said they probably won’t reopen until Thursday. (All units were closed on Saturday and Sunday.)

“This was supposed to be one of our busiest weeks of the year because it’s before people go back to school,” Hopkins said. “Hopefully, we’ll get a little shot after Labor Day weekend and into the fall.”

Rick Weinstein, VP of sales and merchandising for New York-based Searle, said company’s four stores also took a sales hit due to closings, but there was one bright spot.

“The beneficiary of the storm was our website,” he said. “We did a lot of Web business this weekend.”

Since the city wasn’t as hard hit by Irene as other parts of the coast, Weinstein said the firm considered reopening some locations as early as Sunday, but ultimately chose to remain closed. 

“We decided to err on the side of caution,” he said. “We’ll make up some of the lost dollars, but it’s a little bit hard to discern how.”

As of Monday, all four Searle stores were open for business, with some employees being shifted to different stores to make up for those who couldn’t make it into work because of flooding.

In the tony Hamptons area of Long Island, N.Y., some stores were still grappling with power outages on Monday.

Sneakerology co-owner Gary Dworetz said consumers were having trouble getting around town Monday morning, with traffic lights out and trees down on some roads.

“People are starting to get back,” the retailer said, adding that the store was busier than he expected for the few hours it was open on Saturday afternoon before closing for the storm.

Now, with Labor Day approaching, storeowners are looking for ways to drive traffic.

In Washington, D.C., Carbon owner Katherine Limon said she plans to ramp up e-mail promotions this week and will also reach out to consumers on Twitter and Facebook.

With nicer weather in the forecast, Limon is confident sales will pick back up.

“I’m counting on people being back in town and wanting to do some back-to-school shopping,” she said.

Bus Stop owner Elena Brennan is also optimistic that customers will be flocking to her Philadelphia store after being cramped inside all weekend. 

“Now that the weather’s nice, people are a little stir crazy after staying in,” Brennan said. “Women are ready to shop.”

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