NEW YORK -- The first signs of hope following Monday's earthquake in Los Angeles began to surface among senior retail executives Wednesday -- not in California, but at the National Retail Federation convention here.

In Los Angeles, however, manufacturers and economists are troubled about severe transportation problems that will impede not only consumer traffic, but could indefinitely stall the flow of goods from suppliers to retailers.

Retail executives here said they see a rebound beginning in the spring -- the kind of economic turnaround seen in south Florida after Hurricane Andrew in 1992.

They noted that construction jobs will be created and disposable income is expected to grow in the next few months, giving retailers something to look forward to.

"In 60 to 90 days, we'll see a lot of dollars being spent," said Joseph Levy, chairman of Gottschalks, based in Fresno, Calif. The chain has two stores in the earthquake area, in Palmdale and Palm Springs, that were shaken, not severely damaged, and are operating.

"Short-term, retailing will stagnate because it will be hard for people to get around," Levy said. "Long term, there will more disposable income giving retailing a shot in the arm, particularly in home improvement areas."

"This may be a stimulus to the economy, unfortunately in a perverse way," said Howard Eilenberg, senior vice president, Frederick Atkins, retail marketing and merchandising organization. "It may also be a stimulus for people to move out permanently."

Leonard Lauder, president and ceo of Estee Lauder Cos., called the earthquake "a temporary setback" for residents and businesses. "Things will rebound and people will be buying everything," he said.

Even cosmetics. After Hurricane Andrew trounced south Florida in August 1992, Lauder's sales in that area rose 25 to 30 percent the following November and December, Lauder said.

"This is a terrible disaster, but it could work to our advantage," said Donald Fisher, chairman and chief executive officer of The Gap Inc. "People are not going to be traveling very far [to shop] and we have stores almost everywhere."

The Gap was forced to close 24 stores in the area due to damages and power outages. However, the units are covered both for earthquake and business interruption insurance, Fisher said.

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