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Another Storm Cripples Sales On East Coast

NEW YORK -- Friday's storm shut down retailers as far south as Virginia for the day, and clobbered the weekend's Valentine's Day business.<BR><BR>It was the 12th storm in the East this season and another blow to retailers already hampered by the...

NEW YORK — Friday’s storm shut down retailers as far south as Virginia for the day, and clobbered the weekend’s Valentine’s Day business.

It was the 12th storm in the East this season and another blow to retailers already hampered by the severe weather.

“February has been a very tough month,” said Gary Witkin, vice chairman of Saks Fifth Avenue. “Every three days we get hit with something.”

“The weather has been a killer,” said Michael Gould, chairman and chief executive officer of Bloomingdale’s. “We’ll get some of the business back. Some of it is lost, but we’re not changing our game plan one bit.”

Normally, such departments as intimate apparel, fine jewelry, fragrances, men’s furnishings and candy accelerate as Valentine’s Day approaches, but Friday’s storm slammed on the brake for sales of just about everything. Saks Fifth Avenue’s Valentine’s Day businesses have been running 20 behind, but Witkin said he hoped they could catch up a bit on Sunday and today.

“Friday was a real mess,” he added, “Ten stores didn’t open up at all.”

Bergdorf Goodman closed at 5 p.m. on Friday, an hour and a half early. “We had customers in the store who were staying at the hotels in the area,” said Burton Tansky, chairman and chief executive officer. “Certainly not enough to make plan. The weather really has had a negative impact on business for the last three weeks.”

More than 100 J.C. Penney stores in a swath from Texas through the Southeast, mid-Atlantic, Northeast and New England suffered sales declines last week due to frigid weather, ice and snow, according to a spokesman. The biggest daily declines were in rural stores that serve wide areas.

All Bloomingdale’s locations were closed Friday except for the 59th Street, Chicago, Minneapolis and Florida units. About 30 Macy’s stores were affected by the storm. All closed earlier than normal on Friday.

A foot of snow pummeled much of the region Friday, with Newark, N.J., notching up 18 inches. In other areas, there was icy rain. It all made for hazardous road conditions and little sense in shopping. Even the federal government closed for an unprecedented third time due to the rough weather this winter .

Major malls — including Roosevelt Field in Garden City, the Galleria in White Plains, N.Y., Tysons Corner Center in McLean, Va. and the Mall at Short Hills, in New Jersey — were among the region’s shopping venues closed Friday. However, some malls stayed open, among them Pentagon City, Montgomery Mall, Fair Oaks Mall and Lake Forest, all in the Washington area. That irritated some merchants.

“It’s ridiculous to keep the mall open,” said Ashley Schmieder, store manager for Britches Great Outdoors in Montgomery Mall. “We can only close if two of the four anchors close. Including myself, we have three employees here. We’ve (only) sold a shirt to someone who works in the mall.”

Macy’s Herald Square flagship stayed open until 6:15 p.m. instead of the normal 8:30 p.m. on Friday and did “reasonably well” under the circumstances, according to Myron Ullman, chairman and ceo of R.H.Macy & Co. The store posted $830,000 in sales; the plan called for $1.3 million. The company has been on plan for the month for the East and West Coasts, despite the weather, he added.

The storm Wednesday killed Macy’s big one-day sale, but the event was repeated Saturday, and “we pulled out the week,” Ullman said.

“It’s been a rough six weeks for business,” said Peter Marx, an owner of Saks Jandel, a high-end specialty store in Chevy Chase, Md. He added that the store probably won’t make up the lost business.

Several retailers noted that February is not a major selling month and is traditionally a winter clearance period, with new spring deliveries just arriving on the floors.

“The good news is that in February, we’re up against smaller numbers,” Witkin of Saks said. “Dollar-wise, it’s not a killer. Percentage-wise, it is.”

Saks Fifth Avenue units that never opened on Friday were in White Plains, N.Y., Stamford, Conn., Owings Mills and Chevy Chase, Md., Bergen County, Springfield and Garden City, N.J., Philadelphia, and two outlets, in Potomac Mills, Va. and Franklin Mills, Pa.

Saks in Tysons Corner opened for only about an hour, and the Boston unit closed early, too. The Fifth Avenue flagship stayed open until 4:30. Other major stores in Manhattan shut down by early afternoon included Tiffany’s and Lord & Taylor.

Along 57th Street, most designer shops closed early Friday, but Laura Biagiotti, at 4 West 57th St., stayed open until 4:30, and business was surprisingly good, said Cookie Neige, managing director of Biagotti in the U.S. She said three two-piece suits in light wool gabardine, each priced at $1,700, were sold. So were eight bottles of Venezia fragrance, priced $25 for .85 ounces.

“We’re the only one open on the block,” she said. “This is fun. I see people skiing on Fifth Avenue. There’s a lot of people on the streets. Probably most of them are tourists.”

On Saturday, retailers were able to open for business, but transportation difficulties continued to hamper shopping.

Michaela O’Leary, an assistant manager at the Ann Taylor store in The Mall at Short Hills, said that business was slow on Saturday and not expected to be much busier Sunday. “We thought people would be shopping Saturday because the roads were pretty well cleared,” she said. “But it was quiet. I talked to a few other stores, and no one did much. We expect today [Sunday] to be quiet also, because now they’re predicting freezing rain.”

O’Leary said that through the past several weeks of inclement weather, “We’ve probably done about half the business we would normally do.”

It’s been the opposite at Kmart’s Long Island stores, according to Chris Pavlik, merchandise manager at the Sayville unit, who said sales have been up over last year. “There’s no one department that’s driving it,” he said. “It did help that we got extra rock salt in, but it’s not just that people are buying emergency things, like shovels or window blades. They’re really just shopping.”

He said he closed the Sayville store early on two days last week, at 6 p.m. Wednesday, and at 5 p.m. Friday. Normally the store is open until 9:30 p.m. On Friday, Pavlik said, the store was crowded with shoppers who did not appear to be buying emergency items. “And we were packed on Saturday,” he added. “The roads were also clear then. Today, we’re crowded with Valentine’s Day shoppers making last-minute purchases, but the roads are a bit more slippery.”

Sales associates at the Sears store in the Smith Haven Mall on Long Island said the store closed around 10 a.m. Friday but resumed normal hours on Saturday and seemed back to normal by Sunday. An associate in the women’s apparel department said that while some customers are looking for winter hats and gloves — both in scarce supply at the store — the majority are browsing and doing regular early-spring shopping.

“We’ve had people looking for major storm items, like snowblowers,” said one sales associate. “And shovels — which we’re out of.”

— with contributions from MARYELLEN GORDON, New York, JOANNA RAMEY, Washington and HOLLY HABER, Dallas