By  on April 17, 2007

A tough month for retailers just got tougher.

The early Easter pulled business out of April and into March. But this week's nor'easter, flooding several stores and highways and keeping shoppers home Sunday and Monday in Eastern and mid-Atlantic states, will further hurt April sales.

Analysts on Monday were doubtful retailers will have much of a bounce-back this month after the storm clears.

"If a retailer misses a day of business, like a snow day or flooding, you never make up that volume," said Richard Jaffe, retail analyst at Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. "There is a false promise of pent-up demand. It is not like shoppers have to buy new tanks or shorts."

He said the degree of shift in sales into March is hard to gauge, "but it will be more than usual because of the weather," he said.

"The severe storm will definitely have a negative impact on April comps, especially for those retailers that have a disproportionate amount of stores in the storm's path," said Mark Montagna, retail analyst at CL King & Associates.

At Barneys New York in Manhattan, "Saturday was a great day, however Mother Nature had a different calling on Sunday and business suffered," said Dawn Brown, spokeswoman for the luxury chain.

Barneys' Boston store was also impacted, but it could have been worse. "Boston has a history of bad weather, so people there take these things more in stride than [New Yorkers]," Brown said.

Federated Department Stores, soon to be called Macy's, said eight stores were closed either all or part of Monday due to flooding. "Some closed in the morning and reopened at noon, and some didn't," said Jim Slewzuski, spokesman for Federated.

Two Macy's, in Garden State Plaza and Paramus Park Mall in Paramus, N.J., didn't open Monday. Late openings occurred at the Paramus Macy's furniture gallery, and full-line Macy's units in Shoppingtown Mall, Dewitt, N.Y.; Hamilton Mall, Mays Landing, N.J., and Manhasset, N.Y. Bloomingdale's in Hackensack, N.J., in the Riverside Square Mall opened late, too, around noon.Wal-Mart said six stores were kept closed on Monday.

One East Coast department store chief executive said, "The nor'easter definitely put a damper on the business. Saturday was good. Sunday was horrible. Monday will be tough, but we'll bounce back. The good thing was the storm didn't happen the weekend of Easter. Business will be tough again this week. We're selling a lot of rainwear, but spring hasn't really opened up."

Montagna said retailers who have a majority of stores based on the West Coast, like Ross Stores and Gottschalks, will not be hurt by the severe weather seen in the Northeast and some Southern states.

"At some point when the weather stabilizes, retailers will bounce back. Consumers will be motivated to shop and there will be a demand for product, especially since more people are buying more 'wear now' merchandise. They don't want to buy a sleeveless spring dress when it is rainy and cold," he said. "We know an early Easter causes pre-Easter sales to fall earlier in the year."

Coupled with warmer weather in March, the month favored solid same-store sales, said Jaffe.

Boston got more wind than water, and escaped a damaging storm surge or flooding. About 3 inches of rain fell Sunday and through midday Monday, accompanied by gusts up to 60 miles an hour. The 111th Boston Marathon went off as scheduled.

Retail was mixed. Parking lots of regional enclosed malls, including The Burlington Mall in Burlington, Mass., were nearly full with suburban shoppers who had the Patriots' Day holiday. Results were mixed downtown, with some reporting that marathon visitors drove business, while others acknowledged that wind and race-course street closures kept stores quiet.

"If we can't sell waxed cotton at a time like this, we have a problem," joked Thomas Hooven, general manager for venerable British outerwear brand Barbour, which saw business up 50 percent over last year at its Newbury Street store on Saturday. Tourists grabbed boots and the brand's signature coats in preparation for a long, wet race. Monday was quiet, Hooven said. "The streets have been pretty empty today," he said.

At Calypso Christiane Celle, Monday's traffic was off, but sales over the three-day weekend period averaged flat compared with last year, said a spokeswoman. "Surprisingly, [the storm impact] was pretty much unnoticeable," she said. "Saturday was apparently a really good day and it offset Monday." — With contributions from Jeanine Poggi, and Katherine Bowers, Boston

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