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Amid New Terror Alert, Fashion and Retailing Brace for GOP

With the threat of terrorist attacks looming, New York’s fashion and retail industries prepare for gridlock and demonstrations during the Republican...

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City officials said the police will maintain a highly visible presence in an effort to deter terrorists.

WWD Staff

NEW YORK — Nicole Miller’s design company is loading up on canned tuna fish and microwave popcorn. Fern Mallis, executive director of the 7th on Sixth extravaganza anticipates that the show’s 47 trucks and trailers will be searched. Liz Claiborne Inc. is considering telecommuting and other options for its 1,000 workers in Manhattan’s Garment District.

As the Bush administration announced a high risk of terrorist attacks against financial institutions in the New York area and Washington, the fashion and retailing industries here were also preparing for logistical challenges, closed streets, gridlock and protests during the Republican National Convention at Madison Square Garden starting Aug. 30.

The latest warning of car bombs or suicide bombers at targets such as the New York Stock Exchange and the Citigroup Inc. headquarters had little immediate impact on shoppers on Seventh Avenue, but prompted officials to ratchet up security that has been high since the Sept. 11, 2001, destruction of the World Trade Center. The primary changes Monday involved rerouting traffic, teams of police officers at landmarks, major subway and rail stations and bridge and tunnel approaches and random searches.

At All Aboard Worldwide Couriers, a trucking company serving the Garment District, general manager Sulbha Zutshi said the extra security is a fact of life. “What has to be done has to be done,’’ she said.

Retailers were concerned about the reaction of shoppers and any impact on restocking shelves.

“It will take longer to get things into the store, when the police are checking the bridges and tunnels, and I would assume that psychologically, the warnings affect the mind-set of the shoppers,” said a retailer, who requested anonymity.

Tracy Mullin, president of the National Retail Federation, said, “Generally, consumers have taken all of these terror alerts pretty much in stride.” Financial markets appeared to do likewise, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average closing at 10,179, up 39 points for the day.

But the threat prompted the directors of Casual Male Retail Group Inc. to decide not to attend their firm’s annual meeting set for Wednesday in the MetLife building on Park Avenue, said a spokesman for the Canton, Mass.-based company. Instead, the eight directors and management will conduct the session by telephone conference call. It will also be broadcast on the Web.

At Federated Department Stores Inc., which owns Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, Carol Sanger, vice president of corporate communications and external affairs said, “Nothing at this point today indicates anything but business as usual in terms of shopping and store receipts.”

She added, “We anticipate more disruption from the Republican National Convention.”

The four-day convention, which the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg sought as an economic boon and a chance for the city to show off its ability to host major events and help lure more of them, will take place in the crucial week before the annual fashion shows in Manhattan’s Bryant Park. In addition, the site of the first Republican nominating convention in a city where Democrats outnumber them by a ratio of 5 to 2 among registered voters is in one of the New York’s busiest retail districts. It also intrudes on the back-to-school retailing season.

“If all goes the way it’s being planned, you won’t have much of a problem,” said Jerry Scupp, deputy director of the Fashion Center Business Improvement District, referring to security plans. “But I think what is likely to happen is there are likely to be any number of occurrences which could snarl everything. One threat, one smoke bomb, one march and everything is going to have a ripple effect.”

Nicole Miller chief executive officer Bud Konheim said he is figuring that traffic tie-ups may mean that the design staff may have no choice but to stay in the studio overnight for parts of the convention.

“Nicole ordered in 72 bags of microwave popcorn,” he said. “This is our terrorist survival plan.” For those on a low-carb diet, there is “a mountain of tuna fish cans. At least 120 cans of tuna.”

On an even more practical level, the company is trying to see that all its fabrics and trims are shipped in early, so that the fashion week collection comes off without a hitch.

“The rest of the stuff, we’ll sweat it,” Konheim said. “We don’t have a choice.”

An estimated 47,000 delegates, dignitaries and members of the media are expected to attend the GOP convention. The New York Police Department announced plans to close West 31st and 33rd Streets between Seventh and Eighth Avenues adjoining the Garden and the James Farley Post Office, where the press will be housed. Long stretches of Seventh and Eighth Avenues will be shut for the estimated 13 hours of formal sessions over the four days.

The convention is the Republicans’ first since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and thousands of city, state and federal law enforcement officers will guard the event, where President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney are to be nominated for reelection.

Most executives said they expect some limits on truck traffic during the convention through the district — home to Macy’s flagship, Kmart, H&M and other retailers — in addition to current spot inspections of trucks entering Midtown Manhattan. Trucks are a major concern to the designers who will be preparing for the Bryant Park runway shows and to 7th on Sixth/IMG, which organizes Olympus Fashion Week.

“I wouldn’t be honest if I said I wasn’t concerned,” Mallis said.

Runway show crews will have to start loading building supplies into Bryant Park on Aug. 27, the Friday before the convention opens and two days earlier than normal, to ensure that materials are in place on time.

“We have about 47 flatbed trucks and trailers that all need to be coming in to New York during that time, and need to get to Bryant Park and the surrounding streets, where they unload and deliver all the flooring, all the supplies, everything,” Mallis said. “I suspect they will be subject to search.”

She has been informed that 7th on Sixth couldn’t set up the trailers it uses for office space on Sixth Avenue because of traffic, and will instead have to place them on West 40th Street. The construction schedule leaves little wiggle room in the event of delays.

As far as what show organizers will do if traffic, inspections or other unforeseen problems lead to delays, she said, “We really don’t have an answer for that. That’s the $64,000 question. We hope this industry will be understanding if there are some delays.”

Then, Mallis said, “We need to be open and ready for business first thing in the morning on the 8th. People are paying to have their shows in there.”

At Liz Claiborne Inc., which has about 1,000 employees in Midtown, a spokeswoman said: “For those employees most affected, we are exploring options such as flex hours, telecommuting and opening up space in our North Bergen, N.J., headquarters.”

The companies that keep the Garment District supplied with fabrics, trim and the like are also preparing for headaches. At the Waitex Group of Cos., a logistics firm with offices on West 36th Street and a warehouse in New Jersey, chairman and chief executive officer Howard Li said he’s also ready for headaches.

As the convention nears, Scupp said the Fashion Center Business Improvement District is getting an increasing volume of daily phone calls from landlords and tenants asking what companies should do to prepare. The problem is so far city officials haven’t made many clear recommendations, he said.

“They’re not telling us a lot,” he said. “We haven’t heard anything other than that there will be the potential for the inspection of vehicles, particularly vans and trucks, which of course is the mode of transportation around here.”

One safe bet, he said, is to presume that it will be difficult for trucks to travel through Midtown during the day.

“If you have any time-sensitive things, you have to plan ahead,” he said. “You’ve got to order what you can, everything you can think of, and order it beforehand for delivery.”

Scupp said it might prove easier for buildings with 24-hour services to receive deliveries in the predawn hours, after delegates have gone back to their hotels.

The BID has printed 15,000 postcards with details about the convention, which it began distributing to landlords, tenants and truckers this month, to prepare them for the convention.

Dan Pisark, vice president of retail services at the 34th Street Partnership, which represents retailers and landlords on the busy thoroughfare, said his group had started collecting e-mails and fax numbers of area businesses so that it would be able to quickly broadcast any news related to street closings, traffic restrictions or other events.

“If we do receive last-minute bulletins from the police or host committee, we will be able to do a blast fax,” he said. “None of this is going to be kept secret. The mayor’s made it clear that he doesn’t want that.”

While retailers along the streets that are scheduled to be closed, including Seventh Avenue boutiques, expressed dismay about the potential lost business, merchants on the bustling West 34th Street shopping strip said they’re keeping their fingers crossed that they’ll be able to remain open.

Andrew Block, senior vice president of marketing at Tourneau, a watch chain with a location a block north of the Garden, said: “New York can withstand a heck of a lot. How it’s going to impact our business, we’re not sure. We’re keeping an eye on it, but we’re optimistic that all will be fine.”

At Foot Locker Inc., which has several locations along West 34th Street, Peter Brown, vice president of investor relations, said the company, “may be impacted temporarily.” However, he noted that in a chain with almost 4,000 stores, it’s not an overriding concern.

The NYC Host Committee 2004 has estimated that the convention will bring $265 million in revenue to the city, including $166 million in spending by visitors and event organizers. The committee is also trying to encourage the visitors to shop at local stores through a series of events, including parties and fashion shows at Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s, Barneys and Brooks Brothers.

A spokesman for the NYC Host Committee 2004 said the organization last week met with about 1,000 local business managers to begin briefing them about security and sanitation plans.

He noted that the NYPD plans to assign about 900 officers to the neighborhood for the duration of the convention, and that each officer will man the same post each day during the event so that he or she will have time to become familiar with the needs of local businesses and residents.

In addition, he said, the NYPD will be setting up temporary mobile offices in the area during the convention whose purpose will be to liaison with business that run into issues like trouble receiving deliveries.

“They can pick up a phone and dial one of several numbers the police department has,” he said. “A police officer will be dispatched to the area to assure that the trucks and the deliveries get through.”

Even for companies that don’t have offices in the Garment District, the potential delays are a concern. A spokeswoman for Diane von Furstenberg said that while the company’s main office and design studio is in lower Manhattan’s Meatpacking District, its sample room is on West 38th Street, near Seventh Avenue.

“We have to reconsider how we’re going to get back and forth,’’ the spokeswoman said. “You can’t take a subway with all the samples. It’s right before fashion week, so it’s 12 times as busy for us.”

Typically, staffers would be up to the sample room and back a half-dozen times a day that close to show week, she said, adding that the company was looking at ways to cut that back. The idea of getting the collection done before the convention gets under way, to avoid the hassles, is not on the table.

“You can’t,” she said. “We’re cutting samples as we go. Especially right before fashion week, things happen last minute.”

— With contributions from David Moin, New York and Joanna Ramey, Washington

Fashion Industry Convention Checklist

    DO:

  • Have fabrics, trims, office supplies and other critical goods delivered before Aug. 30.
  • Make sure staff has photo identification cards that show the address of the building.
  • Encourage commuters who travel through Penn Station via the Long Island Rail Road, PATH trains or New Jersey Transit to develop alternate travel plans.
  • Plan ahead. Amtrak will require travelers to buy tickets in advance, via phone or the Web. There will not be service at walk-up ticket windows.
  • Carry as few bags as possible, as luggage will be subject to inspection.

    DON’T:

  • Wait until the last minute to ship time-sensitive orders.
  • Assume it will be easy for suppliers or customers from outside the district to get to a firm’s offices.
  • Presume parking will be allowed in the usual lot or garage, since some could be closed.
  • Plan on repeated trips through midtown Manhattan or relying on taxis.
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