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Hurricanes Continue to Batter Retail

NEW YORK — As Ivan was downgraded to a tropical storm and Jeanne was upgraded to a hurricane, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said Thursday that 77 of its roughly 600 facilities in the Southeast are closed, mostly due to power...

NEW YORK — As Ivan was downgraded to a tropical storm and Jeanne was upgraded to a hurricane, Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, said Thursday that 77 of its roughly 600 facilities in the Southeast are closed, mostly due to power outages. The facilities, which include Wal-Mart Supercenters, Sam’s Clubs, Neighborhood Markets and distribution centers, are mostly located in Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Florida.

“We haven’t had any major reports of damage,” said Wal-Mart spokeswoman Sharon Weber in a telephone interview. “A lot of our stores don’t have power. That’s why they’re closed.”

Weber confirmed that the bad weather has curtailed store traffic, but said customers have been in to buy items to prepare for the storm. She expects that customers will be shopping after the storm, as well, similarly to what the Bentonville, Ark.-based company experienced following Hurricanes Frances and Charley.

Weber said Wal-Mart is working as fast as it can to get power generators to affected stores but the process can prove a logistical nightmare with roads frequently closed due to flooding. Or, as is the case in Pensacola, Fla., for example, a major interstate was ripped apart Thursday, leaving traffic unable to pass. “We’re really having to look at the maps and see what routes are available” to get generators to stores, Weber said.

News reports said tornadoes created from the storm led to deaths of several people in northwestern Florida, and President Bush declared Mississippi a major disaster area.

Of the 77 currently closed facilities, there isn’t an easy way to figure out how long it will be before they can reopen, or if more stores will be closed, Weber said. After Hurricane Charley rolled through Florida, for instance, one store that was “severely devastated” reopened in 10 days. In the wake of Hurricane Frances, however, stores reopened much faster, she said.

“We’re now preparing for our sixth hurricane of the season,” said Weber, referring to Jeanne. Wal-Mart has 209 facilities in Florida, 105 in Alabama, 96 in Louisiana, 138 in Georgia and 53 in Mississippi.

— Meredith Derby

This story first appeared in the September 17, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.