Foul Weather Hits U.S. Retailers

Extreme weather in several parts of the country brought retail, business, long-distance and local travel to dramatic halts this week.

with contributions from Brenda Lloyd

Extreme weather in several parts of the country brought retail, business, long-distance and local travel to dramatic halts this week.

This story first appeared in the January 31, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Difficult conditions stretched from the Midwest, where temperatures plummeted to bone-chilling subzero levels, to the Deep South, where a few inches of snow caught the region by surprise.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said as the storm moved from west to east, more than 150 stores had to be closed in its path. The closings were due to power outages, government mandates, road closures and staffing issues. The storm began Monday and continued through Tuesday. By Thursday, all stores had reopened except four in the Atlanta area, which remained closed because associates couldn’t get to work. “We knew the storm was coming and anticipated road conditions would be difficult,” a spokeswoman said. “We started bulking up on truckload deliveries earlier in the week.”

Snow was often less of an issue than the cold. Winter-weary Minnesotans trudged through blizzard conditions to reach Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., on Thursday. Public schools were closed Monday and Tuesday, so the giant mall offered free rides at its Nickelodeon Universe, worth $30.

“This is our second time experiencing the polar vortex [this season],” said Maureen Bausch, senior vice president of business development, noting that area schools had already been closed for five days this winter owing to the frigid temperatures. “It’s been cold for three weeks….Today there’s a blizzard, but schools are open.”

Macy’s Inc. said there were many stores closed in the Southeast. On Tuesday, 32 stores — 31 Macy’s units and one Bloomingdale’s — closed early in Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina. On Wednesday, 45 stores — 44 Macy’s and one Bloomingdale’s — were closed for all or part of the day in Georgia, Virginia, Alabama, South Carolina and North Carolina. On Thursday, three stores in Alabama and Georgia had delayed openings, a Macy’s spokesman said.

Store closures for Nordstrom Inc. have been a moving target as the storm traveled. “We’ve had store closures and stores that opened later than they were scheduled to open,” said a Nordstrom spokesman. “We’ve been updating our store locator on nordstrom.com so people can check to see if a store is open. We’ve experienced adjusted store hours at stores in Georgia and the Atlantic seaboard.”

Belk Inc., based in Charlotte, N.C., said that 134 of its stores were impacted by the storm, causing store closings and delayed openings. The stores had no physical damage. “Many of our associates suffered hardships trying to get home due to the condition of local roads and highways, but fortunately we did not have any injuries,” said a spokesman.

Wendy Batiste-Johnson, general manager of the Mall at Partridge Creek in Clinton Township, Mich., said, “We were fully operable. We actually had customers. [The storm] definitely affects traffic. The theater was busy because the kids were out of school, but it wasn’t a typical day.”

The only major Taubman center that closed this week due to weather was MacArthur Center in Norfolk, Va., which had 8 inches of show, said a spokeswoman for the developer. “They closed early on Tuesday and remained closed [Wednesday].”

In parts of the Deep South, only 2 to 3 inches of snow fell, but crippled the region’s transportation and business. Local retailers shut down early on Tuesday and remained closed on Wednesday, but most reopened Thursday. Lindsay Welton, buyer for The Bilt-House, said two of its boutiques reopened Thursday, but two others remained closed because they’re in icier areas.

Birmingham, Ala., was hit by the same storm system an hour or so before Atlanta. Seth Adams, owner of Village Sportswear and Marella, said he closed the two stores Tuesday morning and they remained closed Wednesday and Thursday. “When you lose these days, you never get them back,” he said.

The Atlanta Apparel Mart, preparing for the Atlanta Apparel Market, which opened on Thursday, had a skeleton crew in place on Tuesday and Wednesday, said Lou Ann Thomas, executive director of marketing. Lori Kisner, senior vice president, apparel, said between 85 and 90 percent of people expected at the Mart for the show were there on Thursday, and she expected Friday to be back to normal, and the weekend to be busier than usual.