Weather Woes Weigh on Retail

Winter Storm Pax brought snow, sleet, rain and ice to the Northeast after pounding the South earlier in the week, forcing thousands of retailers to stay closed.

Winter Storm Pax brought snow, sleet, rain and ice to the Northeast on Thursday after pounding the South earlier in the week, forcing thousands of retailers to stay closed.

This story first appeared in the February 14, 2014 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

The bad weather dampened any hopes of a last-minute surge of Valentine’s Day spending and threatened Presidents’ Day promotions this week in several states.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said 80 stores remained closed, down from 150 on Wednesday. “We’re getting them back up and running,” a spokeswoman said. “It’s not power issues. It’s being able to get associates to the stores safely.” The spokeswoman said stores in South Carolina were the hardest hit, followed by Georgia and North Carolina.

Target Corp. said 21 stores were closed on Thursday, while Belk Inc. said 94 stores were closed along with its Charlotte, N.C. headquarters. “All of our regions were impacted Wednesday. I feel certain all divisions were impacted today as well,” said a spokeswoman.

A spokesman for Simon Property Group said 20 shopping centers were closed from as far south as Calhoun, Ga., to as far north as Central Valley, N.Y. The closures included The Shops at Riverside Square in Hackensack, N.J., Potomac Mills in Washington, D.C. and Woodbury Premium Outlets in Central Valley. About 16 malls that were closed Wednesday were scheduled to open at 1 p.m. Thursday, including Lenox Square, Phipps Plaza, Northlake and Mall of Georgia, all in Atlanta.

“Local mom and pops, if they can open, stand to do well,” said Evan Gold, senior vice president at weather advisory firm Planalytics. “There may be some pent-up demand next week. We’re weather weary right now.”

Taubman Centers said two Connecticut malls, Westfarms in Farmington and Stamford Town Center; as well as The Mall at Short Hills in Short Hills, N.J.; Fair Oaks mall in Fairfax, Va., and Northlake mall in Charlotte, N.C., were closed Thursday. Stony Point Fashion Park in Richmond, Va., closed Wednesday but was scheduled to open at noon Thursday,

Gold estimated that billions in retail sales were lost this week based on the duration of the bad weather and the size of the population affected. “In terms of economic impact, [those sales] will not be made up,” he said.

The severe weather is “just an extreme traffic killer,” Gold said. “It will go into tomorrow and maybe into Saturday. Valentine’s Day is going to be tough, especially for apparel folks like Victoria’s Secret. Think of the average male shopper who shops at the last second — this year it’s not going to happen. People may buy late or buy something online.”

The severe winter’s impact already was felt in January when, according to the Commerce Department’s January sales report, apparel and accessories stores posted a seasonally-adjusted 0.9 percent drop in sales to $20.9 billion compared with December, while department stores posted a 1.5 percent decline in sales to $14.1 billion. General merchandise stores, a category that includes discounters and department stores, saw a 0.1 percent decline in sales to $54.9 billion. Year-over-year, sales at apparel and accessories stores were up 1.2 percent in January on a seasonally adjusted basis, while sales at department stores plunged 5.7 percent. General merchandise stores posted a 0.2 percent increase.

According to the National Retail Federation, January retail sales, excluding automobiles, gas stations and restaurants, were flat seasonally adjusted month-to-month, yet increased 3 percent unadjusted year-over-year. “Harsh winter weather is masking the performance of the broader economy,” said Jack Kleinhenz, NRF’s chief economist.

As for designers and New York Fashion Week, almost all the shows went off as scheduled Thursday despite heavy snow in the morning followed by rain that turned the streets to mush. The Council of Fashion Designers of America canceled its Fashion Incubator open house at 209 West 38th Street from 3 to 5 p.m. on Thursday due to the weather. A digital showcase of the designers can be viewed online at digitalfashionshows.com. Hernan Lander, who was scheduled to show Thursday at 11 a.m. changed his show time to 12 p.m.

For editors, the next major hurdle will be catching planes to London for London Fashion Week, which begins today. Editors were crossing their fingers that they wouldn’t be delayed. Suzy Menkes, style editor of the International Herald Tribune, plans to take an 8 a.m. flight out of Newark on Friday. Anna Wintour, editor in chief of Vogue, is also flying to London on Friday at 8 a.m. “Everything’s confirmed. I’ll be there,” she said.

Stefano Tonchi, editor in chief of W, said he’s planning to fly to London Friday night at 9 p.m., as is Robbie Myers, editor in chief of Elle, while Joe Zee, creative director, is leaving Saturday night.

Menkes called it “ludicrous” that the shows were scattered all over New York City. She said she was told the reason for all the downtown shows is that “so many editors live in TriBeCa….It’s not supposed to be for local heroes. They’re uncomfortable, awkward places all the way downtown, but who am I?”