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Wednesday’s snowstorm that socked the East Coast put a huge dent in retailers’ Valentine’s Day business and had many fashion houses fretting over their New York Fashion Week shows.

This story first appeared in the February 11, 2010 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Retailers said they hoped to make up some of the lost business and that the buildup really happens this weekend with promotions tied to both Valentine’s Day on Sunday and President’s Day on Monday.

For now, fashion firms said shows were still on schedule, but organizers were concerned about the rash of e-mails from out-of-towners who couldn’t attend because their flights were grounded. Designers were also fretting over seamstresses having difficulty getting to work and runway merchandise backed up at Customs.

Among the schedule changes, Nary Manivong’s presentation, slated from noon to 2 p.m. at the Audi Forum on Wednesday, was postponed until next Wednesday, the 17th, from 4 to 6 p.m. at the same location. The line is designed by Manivong, with stylist Ally Hilfiger.

“There were cancellations of booked models, foreign press, celebrities and talent who missed or had flight delays,” said a spokeswoman. “Shoes being flown in to arrive this morning from London were held up in transit. The tailor upstate finishing alterations to a few pieces was snowed in.”

Movado postponed its annual “Be Mine” Valentine’s Day press preview at the company’s 39th Street showroom scheduled for all day Wednesday. A company representative sent an e-mail alerting editors that they would reschedule next week.

Mifur, the international fur and leather exhibition, which had slated a cocktail party and presentation for Wednesday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., has rescheduled for Friday at the Soho House from 6 to 8 p.m.

Geren Ford reminded editors in an e-mail that “Neither rain, nor sleet, nor dark of night…the show will go on.” Ford’s presentation was slated for Wednesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Crosby Street Hotel.

Rebecca Minkoff enticed editors to come to its fall presentation with an e-mail that read, “Come in your galoshes. We’ll have Champagne and macaroons (and a beautiful collection) waiting for you.”

And Kenneth Cole sent snow-defying rubber boots to urge along guests planning to attend the American Foundation of AIDS Research, or amfAR, gala Wednesday night.

Ian Gerard, founder of Gen Art, which was presenting “Plastics Make It Possible,” said he took several steps to prepare for his Wednesday evening show at Drive-In Studios in light of the severe weather. “We overbooked, so we’re hoping it keeps snowing.” He was expecting 1,000 guests. It’s a two-hour presentation, rather than a runway show, “giving people a bigger window to deal with it,” said Gerard.

A spokeswoman for KCD Worldwide said, “Everything is still on target for us from a public relations and production standpoint.”

An IMG spokesman said Wednesday morning there were no changes in the 7th on Sixth schedule and no cancellations due to the weather. “Obviously, it’s not the nicest weather out, but [New York City] is pretty impressive in its ability to overcome inclement weather. The roads are clear, the sidewalks are clear and the subways and buses are running. We’ll be ready for 9 a.m. tomorrow morning.”

As far as the tents are concerned, “It’s a temporary structure, so we do have to deal with that. The show venues and lobby are less of a concern. It’s the intersection and hallways between the tents that have gutters and can get overwhelmed. The company that puts up the tents has a full-time staff that lives, eats and sleeps” the tents.

Most European editors and retailers attending the shows said Wednesday the blizzard would not affect their plans, barring unforeseen delayed or canceled flights. Carine Roitfeld, editor in chief of French Vogue, boarded a flight Wednesday bound for New York, while buyers from Milan’s Biffi specialty stores and London’s Browns had already arrived in the city. Ed Burstell, buying director of Liberty, said he plans to attend New York Fashion Week “even if I have to get a dog sled.”

Yves Carcelle, chairman and chief executive officer of Louis Vuitton, arrived in Manhattan ahead of the storm to attend the amfAR event at which he was honored.

British editors from Condé Nast U.K. and Natmags, the British arm of Hearst Magazines, were either already in New York or were planning to attend as scheduled.

On the retail front, as of noon, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. closed nine stores and one distribution center across Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey and Virginia, a spokeswoman said. The closures were prompted by the snow build-up on buildings, power outages and limited availability of sales associates. Wal-Mart also has a fleet of trucks contending with snow-clogged roads. “Right now, what our customers are looking for is food merchandise that they’re going to need during the snowstorm, whether it’s canned goods or bottled water,” a spokeswoman said. Shoppers have also been buying winter-emergency standbys such as flashlights, batteries, salt and sand, she added.

About two dozen J.C. Penney Co. Inc. stores closed early on Tuesday as the storm hit Ohio. “It’s been a moving target,” said a spokesman. “We’ve had stores closing early or closed at various places all week. Most of it is temporary. They get dumped on, then they dig out and get back open the next day.”

A spokeswoman for Sears Holdings Corp. said the storm forced the retailer to close 12 Sears and four Kmart stores in the mid-Atlantic and Northeast. Shovels, ice melt, generators and any kind of snow thrower are pacing sales in impacted areas.

“There are no current plans to close the Manhattan flagship, but we are evaluating it as the day goes on,” said a Brooks Brothers spokesman. “Obviously, we have tremendous concern for the safety of our associates.” At around 11 a.m., there were 15 customers on the main floor of the Madison Avenue flagship. “That’s pretty normal for us this time of day,” he said.

Regarding Brooks Brothers stores in outlying areas, “We are really following the mall’s directives.” Several stores in the Washington, D.C.; Tysons Corner, Va.; Baltimore, and Annapolis areas, as well as 15 outlets in the Northeast, were either closing early or stay closed Wednesday.

As of early afternoon, Macy’s Inc. hadn’t closed any stores in the New York area, but 20 Macy’s and nine Bloomingdale’s were closed all day, mostly in the Washington and Baltimore areas. In addition, 10 Macy’s opened on time and closed between 11 a.m. and noon, and three stores opened late and were still open as of 1 p.m., but could have closed early.

Asked about the impact on business, Macy’s spokesman Jim Sluzewski said, “It’s hard to say. We really won’t know until it all comes out at the end of the month. Sometimes it gets made up, sometimes it doesn’t. With Valentine’s Day this weekend, it remains to be seen if people will simply shop later, or shop online, don’t give a Valentine’s Day gift or give something later.”

Scoop kept its New York stores open till 4 p.m., but never opened in Greenwich and East Hampton, said Scoop ceo Susan Davidson. Asked if there were any shoppers, Davidson said, “There are some. There are some.”

Blizzard conditions paralyzed the Washington region with wind gusts of up to 40 miles an hour. Stephen Fuller, professor of public policy and director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said some of the Washington metro region’s $79 billion in retail sales will be dramatically affected by Wednesday’s storm and the one that hit the region over the weekend, particularly in the non-durable goods area.

“I think durable goods will be made up next month, but clearly they are not going to get everything back,” said Fuller, noting the average monthly durable goods sales are about $3.2 billion. “It is going to hurt in the short term and department stores may have to discount stuff to move it. But I think they can look forward to some pent-up demand showing up and they will get a little rebound by the time the first nice day comes.”

Most shopping centers in the region closed on Wednesday. “I think because we have been blindsided by half this weather, people are not yet thinking of strategies to make up for sales they have obviously lost at this point,” said Nichole Devolites, director of marketing for Tysons Galleria. Her team is working on strategies to help retailers recoup some of the losses.

Tysons closed on Wednesday and plans for Thursday were still up in the air, although Devolites said the mall hoped to have a delayed opening at noon. “It is really crippling,” she said. “With these last two storms, we will have accumulated almost four-and-a-half feet of snow.”

Tysons Corner Center, a separately owned property near the Galleria, said in a recording that most of the center’s retailers chose not to open. Specifically, Lord & Taylor, Bloomingdale’s, L.L. Bean and Nordstrom were closed, but Macy’s remained open.

Simon Property Group Inc. closed seven shopping centers in five states on Wednesday, including Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland, and delayed openings at three other shopping centers. 

“We have 31 stores currently closed in the heart of the storm,” said Target Corp. spokeswoman Amy Reilly, who added that the retailer could close another 20 stores due to the harsh weather conditions. The majority of the stores already closed are around Washington, D.C.; Philadelphia, and Baltimore, and there may be potential store closures in Boston and New York City, she said.

After last weekend’s blizzard, the retailer did see an uptick in sales of batteries, flashlights, lanterns, rain boots, weather radios and food.

Higher food sales, however, may have also been linked to the Super Bowl, Reilly noted.


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