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From Bad to Worse: Snow Socks Stores

Storms moved across the Midwest and Northeast over the last four days in yet another setback for retailers in a season beset by war and joblessness.

NEW YORK — Just when they start to crawl back, retailers get snowed under.

That’s been the pattern so far in 2003 and this week appears to be no exception. Snow and ice storms moved across the Midwest and Northeast over the last four days in yet another setback in a season beset by the war in Iraq, joblessness and nervous consumers. Several inches fell in the Tri-State area, while ice storms in metro Detroit knocked out power last weekend.

Retailers now are hoping there’s pent-up demand for the weeks ahead, abetted by the late Easter — April 20 this year versus March 31 last year. But they’ve got a lot of ground to make up. Major chains report March sales results Thursday, with many expected to report negative comp-store sales. Some might even revise first-quarter earnings estimates downward.

On Monday at Boscov’s, which operates department stores in five mid-Atlantic states, Maralyn Lakin, senior vice president of marketing, public relations and Internet, said, “We’re getting hit throughout almost all of our markets, through Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and in New York. Binghamton is bad, but Nanuet and Albany and Pittsburgh are not as bad.”

Monday’s setback followed a strong weekend at the 39-unit Boscov’s, though for the season overall, “the weather has not been cooperative, and the Easter calendar shift hasn’t helped either,” Lakin said. “But it should make for a much better April. We’re looking to start making up for losses in February and March.”

Some executives at other stores were thankful the storm hit Monday, rather than another day. “If there has to be a snowstorm, I’d take Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. They’re slower days [than the rest of the week],” said Jack Mitchell, chief executive officer of Mitchells of Westport, Conn., and Richards, in Greenwich. “Today will not be great, and we lost a couple of days during the winter.”

The weather really seems to be getting people down, financially and psychologically. At Bergdorf Goodman in Manhattan, the store Monday was “a little quiet, but we have a big trunk show for Versace and it’s working well,” said Ron Frasch, chairman and ceo. “It’s a little slow out there and today is not a big day, but every day counts. Personally, it’s very demoralizing. It’s a funny winter, with everything going on, from the tough economy, tough stock market and the weather.”

Weekend business at the Great Lakes Crossing mall in Auburn Hills, Mich., was good, according to Kimberly Baughman, mall manager. “The ice storm did not really affect the roads, but many people were out of electricity, so they came to the mall. Today [Monday] is a different story. It continues to snow and the roads are treacherous, so business is slow.”

At the Woodfield Mall in Schaumburg, Ill.: “Today’s snow and freezing rain is dramatically slowing down business,” said Marc Strich, manager. “Still, our weekend business was fantastic as people were anticipating four to eight inches of snow. We only got one to three inches last night.”

“The snow today is not a big deal — we are used to snow,” reported Ariela Shani, vice president and general manager of Neiman Marcus in Troy, Mich. “But about 250,000 people don’t have electricity, and many phones are out of order. So, because a lot of our business is done on the phone, that obviously makes it a little bit difficult. Traffic is down a little bit.”

At Tysons Galleria, in McLean, Va., south of Washington, warm weather is seen by retailers as making a positive difference. “Things are looking up,” said Jaime Friedman, senior marketing director. “We’re also getting a lot of our snowbirds from the south back.”