By  on June 30, 2006

NEW YORK — Retailers along the Susquehanna River, from Norwich and Binghamton, N.Y., south to Scranton, Wilkes-Barre and Harrisburg, Pa., were the most severely impacted by flooding following five days of rain that pounded the Northeast from North Carolina to Maine.

"This whole area has been impacted," said Art Phillips, general manager of the Oakdale Mall in Johnson City, N.Y. "It's been pretty devastating. Across the street from us, Gander Mountain and Toys ‘R' Us are under water. I've never seen anything like this. We had a pretty good flood last year but nothing compared to this."

Oakdale Mall sustained no damage, but Phillips said about 30 stores in the center were closed on Wednesday because employees couldn't get to work. "They're just stranded," he said, adding that certain parts of Binghamton were evacuated.

Traffic at the mall was off significantly on Wednesday when travel was treacherous.

Across the Susquehanna River in Vestal, N.Y., a Wal-Mart Supercenter and Sam's Club were closed on Thursday due to evacuation orders. The stores are less than a mile from the river, which has been rising to record levels and is expected to rise another 3 feet.

A Wal-Mart spokeswoman said she was not aware of any damage or injuries at the stores. "Management is working to provide supplies to the American Red Cross shelter that has been set up at the Binghamton University," she said.

A Wal-Mart unit in Milford, Pa., was closed on Wednesday and remained closed Thursday, also due to evacuation orders. "We'll reopen as soon as authorities say it's OK," she said.

"I wasn't impacted but I feel bad for my partners down the road," said Sue Strunk, owner of Trading Closets, a consignment shop in Milford, Pa., which is on Route 6. Stores nearby in lower-lying areas near the Delaware River in such towns as Port Jervis, N.Y.; and Matamoras and Westfall, Pa., were forced to close Thursday but some, such as Encore — another consignment shop — were hoping to reopen Friday in Matamoras, according to a message on their answering machine.

"We were really in the thick of it," said Ken Lakin, chairman and chief executive of the Reading, Pa.-based Boscov's Department Stores. While none of his stores sustained damage, there was a loss of business at the Pottsville, Pa., and Binghamton, N.Y., units in areas in which people were evacuated due to flooding. Those stores closed early Wednesday afternoon, but reopened Thursday.Overall for June, Lakin said the intense rain "was not a major detriment" to sales until the last couple of days, and that Father's Day business was pretty close to last year's level. One cool week in June did hinder sales of summer items like shorts.

A manager at Kohl's in Pottsville, N.Y., said, "Our store has not been flooded, but stores just below us in lower-lying areas have been flooded out. Customers coming in are replacing clothing that they have lost. They're in shelters. It has cut our business because of limited travel and limited access."

But William Dreher, a retail analyst at Deutsche Bank, said the flooding won't dent June sales. "The overall impact of weather in June should be fairly mild as we believe inventory has been well-managed this spring/summer season, allowing retailers to absorb any June weakness without significantly impacting gross margins," he said.

At General Growth Properties, the nation's second-largest shopping center developer, chairman and chief executive John Bucksbaum said he received no damage reports due to flooding. He sensed that traffic in malls was down along the East Coast during June, and was probably not as strong as May, but that the month was still not bad.

An official from Macy's East said store managers in several impacted areas, including Utica, N.Y., and Montgomery and Harrisburg, Pa. "hadn't seen a huge effect. There hasn't been a huge change in traffic."

Though several government offices in Washington D.C. were closed on Monday and the region was soaked by several days of heavy rain as well as floods, malls in the area were up and running. "Aside from a few minor leaks that occur when it does rain, we were business as usual," said Jill Schlapkohl, director of mall marketing at the Fashion Centre at Pentagon City in Arlington, Va.

Louise Gordon, marketing director for Westfield Montgomery in Bethesda, Md.. said: "It doesn't seem to have impacted negatively on our business. Some stores might have been opened a bit later on some of the heavy days, but apart from that it was business as usual."

With contributions from David Moin, New York, and Evan Clark, Washington

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