Retailers along the Carolina coast are bracing for impact as Hurricane Florence approaches the Eastern Seaboard.
The hurricane, which as of midday Monday was upgraded to a Category 4, is expected to make landfall on Thursday on the North Carolina and South Carolina coasts, with storm surges, flooding and hurricane-force winds also affecting Virginia the rest of the Mid Atlantic region, according to the National Hurricane Center.
More than one million residents in eight counties along South Carolina’s coast were ordered to evacuate on Monday, and store owners were scrambling to batten down the hatches before the mandate goes into effect on Tuesday at noon.
“We’re moving all of our shoes that are close to the ground up to the top,” said Ainsley McNair, the manager of Phillips Shoes in Hilton Head Island, South Carolina. “Anything that’s been pre-paid has been packed up in my car to go with me for the evacuation. Anything that was supposed to be shipped out, we held onto so that it wouldn’t be sitting on a truck getting rained on.”
Like many locals, this isn’t the retailer’s first time dealing with a major storm — the island was also evacuated for Hurricane Irma last September and Hurricane Matthew in 2016, forcing the location to close for a full week — though she says that so far, the store has fortunately been spared from flooding.
In North Carolina, only certain counties received mandatory evacuation notices on Monday, but business has been slow even for those currently planning on staying put.
At Sound Feet Shoes in Greenville, North Carolina, manager Ashley Spruill said “sales have definitely decreased today” as local residents focus on stocking up on food, water and other essentials. She said upper management of the footwear chain, which operates nine stores throughout the state, had given the OK to reduce the number of staff coming in beginning on Tuesday for safety reasons, and one of the owners was gathering sandbags and plywood to protect the building.
Further south, Allen Murphy, the owner of Coastal Kicks in Wilmington, North Carolina, said he’s planning on staying put this week, just as he did two years ago during Hurricane Matthew. “I made a conscientious decision to not flee because I want to be close by to my store in the event that something bad does happen,” he said, adding that he’ll likely keep the locations open until Thursday.
And while he’s expecting to see less foot traffic this week as locals prepare for the storm, he’s sure some will still find time to pick up a new pair of sneakers before it hits.
“Here in Wilmington, there’s a real big thing about hurricane parties,” he explained. “It’s the first city I’ve ever heard of where a hurricane is a wonderful excuse for a party — and these parties get kind of wild. So while it’ll turn off some business, it’ll also turn on some business for that exact reason. You’re stuck in the house with a bunch of people anyway. You might as well look fashionable.”