By and and  on September 5, 2008

NEW ORLEANS — Hamstrung by a lack of electricity, retailers here were trying to get ready for business Thursday as more of the city repopulated after officials allowed residents to return in Hurricane Gustav’s wake.

Many evacuees returned despite officials’ warnings that residents would encounter diminished water and other services of the various parishes.

Nevertheless, retailers that had power were making plans to reopen Friday. As soon as she reconfirmed her store had power, Debbie Friedman, owner of the 2,500-square-foot Total Woman, an upscale boutique with contemporary designer ready-to-wear on Magazine Street, said she began making plans to reopen at 11 a.m. today. “I’m very excited about this,” she said by cell phone as she navigated the traffic back into the city.

Meanwhile, suburban Lakeside Shopping Center opened its doors Thursday morning, but stores remained closed except for the Tinder Box and the food court with two vendors. Sisters-in-law Christine Knobloch and Kim Ely, with their children in tow, were among the handful of expectant shoppers who arrived at the mall only to find limited options. Half of the center had electricity, leaving 50 percent of the merchants and anchors J.C. Penney and Dillard’s in the dark. Even with the other half of the mall’s lights on, merchants weren’t on site, save for Coach’s Madelaine Gilbert, assistant manager, and manager Michelle Michlen, who were in the store to schedule employees for work Friday.

Nearby, Clearview Shopping Center reopened with one of its anchors, Bed Bath & Beyond, while Target was readying to reopen today. A handful of other merchants were open, and others were “just waiting for employees to come back,” said marketing director Joy Patin.

But even as New Orleans gets back to normal after Gustav, several other storms off the Atlantic pose threats to the U.S.

Tropical Storm Hanna, downgraded from a hurricane, is expected to make landfall on the North Carolina coast Saturday morning. It could strengthen to a Category 1 hurricane, according to the National Hurricane Center.

Ike, a Category 4 hurricane with 140 mile per hour winds, could hit early next week. While forecasters still couldn’t pinpoint an exact location, the storm could affect parts of Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas.

Tropical storm Josephine, with winds of 60 mph, is 1,600 miles behind Ike in the eastern Atlantic, but isn’t expected to make landfall anytime soon.

The storms may test retailers such as Copper Penny, based in Charleston, S.C., with eight stores in Charleston and Myrtle Beach, S.C., and one Savannah, Ga., location.

“We went through Hugo [in 1989],” said owner Penny Vaigneur. “We’re preparing to put sandbags at the doors, and duct tape door and window cracks. We’ll get merchandise off the floor, but not put it too close to the ceiling in case of roof damage. We have to play it by the hour, and keep our employees up to date.”

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