A third storm in as many days battered much of California on Saturday, and retailers were left struggling to recover from the rain-soaked weekend with lighter than usual traffic evident at malls and stores throughout the state.

Northern California was the hardest hit by the severe weather, while Los Angeles County had about one to three inches of rain in most areas by Saturday, with as much as six to seven inches in the mountains and foothills.

The heavy storms prompted Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Saturday to proclaim a state of emergency in areas ravaged by the weather.

A deluge of rain caused flooding, road closures and extensive power outages, crippling public transportation systems. More heavy rains in Northern California are forecast through Thursday.

In Los Angeles, Kitson owner Fraser Ross said, “Rain is like snow in California — people from other parts of the nation just don’t realize the impact rain can have on business. We usually see thousands of customers a day and Saturday was down by 30 percent at least. We are probably the busiest store on Robertson Boulevard, so I can only imagine how badly others are hurting.”

Southern California Edison reported that about 262,600 customers had experienced power outages since Friday night.

Only about 5,375 were still without power on Saturday night, and all but about a thousand had power restored by Sunday, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The storm thrashed Northern California on Friday with hurricane-force winds. About 750,000 residences and businesses throughout the Bay Area lost power and over the weekend another 120,000 were still waiting for power to be restored, according to Pacific Gas and Electric.

In San Francisco, a Union Square Association spokeswoman said, “Until now we’ve had such great weather.”

To the south, the storm caused traffic jams and outages down the Peninsula, including at San Jose’s two major malls, Santana Row and Valley Fair. Both centers lost power Friday afternoon, forcing some early closings.

“We’re in an indoor mall so we actually do good business when it rains,” said Vanessa Aispuro, an employee at Kristy’s Beauty Store at Beverly Center in Los Angeles, which saw more than 100 customers on Saturday. “It’s great for us, and we’ve been pretty busy, so has the mall in general. Usually when it rains our store in Century City doesn’t do as well, though, because it’s outdoors.”

This story first appeared in the January 7, 2008 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Some Southern California merchants tried to see a bit of a silver lining in the unusually harsh weather.

“The only upside is that we’re seeing some of the tourists who are in town this time of year and aren’t going to be able to lie by the pool, go to the beach or Disneyland,” Kitson’s Ross said.

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