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Retailers Slowly Reopen in Sandy’s Wake

Three days after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, there were some things for the retail industry to be thankful for.

Patrons charge up at the Short Hills Mall.

Three days after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, there were some things for the retail industry to be thankful for.

Progress reopening stores and malls that were knocked out by Sandy continued Thursday, and only minimal damage to commercial property was reported in most areas in the path of the storm. Retail analysts predicted that business losses, while difficult to estimate at this point, could have been worse had the storm hit later in the week or closer to Thanksgiving. Many malls that were up and running became havens for people without power at home and in need of food, heat and electricity to charge up their cell phones. In addition, several retail and mall companies revealed donations for relief efforts to communities where they operate.

The positive developments came against a backdrop of at least 80 deaths throughout the region and massive destruction along coastlines, in particular Atlantic City; Hoboken, N.J.; lower Manhattan; Long Beach on Long Island, and Breezy Point in Queens. As of late Thursday, about 4.6 million people remained without power, as did many stores and malls. Floods and transportation shutdowns made it difficult for many employees to get to work. It remains to be seen how consumer spending will shift in the days ahead to immediate needs — such as food, water, basic necessities and materials needed to repair damages to homes — and how much November sales will be impacted.

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Joe Welter, partner in the retail practice for Deloitte and the Northeast regional leader, said fashion retailing is in between two seasons. “From that perspective, the storm is not much more than a blip in terms of retail sales,” he said, though he added that the weather is getting chilly and it’s the time of year when people typically start to look to buy things like gloves and jackets.

He concluded there could be some economic upside from reconstruction efforts and potentially a lift to malls this week since they are getting crowds now from people escaping homes without power. Deloitte said that in the aftermath of the storm, it is sticking to its forecast for a 3.5 to 4 percent increase in sales for the holiday period from November through January, noting that Hurricane Sandy would not be a major dent on retailing from a national perspective.

Among retailers working hard to reopen stores was Kohl’s Corp., which had 194 shuttered at the peak on Monday night and Tuesday morning, but by Thursday had just seven stores closed in New Jersey. In Connecticut, the retailer had two stores closed, as well as three in New York, and three in Pennsylvania.

Kohl’s said it was donating $1 million to the American Red Cross to help deliver emergency supplies and services, and has been encouraging associates to volunteer in cleanup efforts through its Associates in Action program.

At Sears, 36 stores were still closed but that was 30 fewer than the day before. “We have about 20 other locations that are either operating on generator power or generators are en route,” said a spokesman. “Our teams are working hard to get the stores back online as quickly as possible. To ensure we have the necessities in stock to meet members’ needs, more than 100 truckloads filled with the most needed supplies are headed east from distribution points in six areas including 42 distribution centers from as far west as Memphis and Chicago. Truckloads of equipment including generators in many cases are being shipped directly from vendors to markets and such items as flashlights, batteries, lanterns, dehumidifiers and sump pumps are arriving daily.”

In Atlantic City, which was ravaged by the storm, the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa, among other resort facilities and casinos, remained closed, according to a spokeswoman, who said hotel shops to her knowledge didn’t sustain any damage. The Borgata is located in the marina district off the boardwalk. While there is hope that the hotel could open as soon as Saturday, the spokeswoman said it can’t open until it gets the OK from New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

From about 20 malls that were shut down on Tuesday, Simon Property Group Inc. reported that it was down to a handful still closed Thursday including Ocean County Mall in Toms River, N.J.; Jefferson Valley Mall in Yorktown Heights, N.Y.; the Shops at Riverside in Hackensack, N.J., and Walt Whitman Shops in Huntington Station, N.Y.

The Short Hills Mall in Short Hills, N.J., reopened Thursday morning after being without power and, according to reports from owner Taubman Centers Inc., traffic was similar to that of a busy Saturday.

The Americana Manhasset on Long Island, which includes Hirshleifers, Louis Vuitton, Hermès, Dior, Burberry, Theory and Donna Karan New York, was still closed on Thursday due to a power outage.

J. Crew’s stores were heavily impacted by the storm throughout the Tristate area. Among the units that were still closed Thursday were Westport, Conn.; the South Street Seaport; Prince Street; Fifth Avenue; Walt Whitman Shops; Manhasset, N.Y.; Freehold, N.J., and Riverside, N.J. In addition, Madewell units in SoHo, on Fifth Avenue and at the Walt Whitman Shops were still closed, as well as the Liquor Store in TriBeca in New York. Factory outlet stores in such areas as the Jersey Shore, Atlantic City and Riverhead, N.Y., were still shuttered.

J. Crew Group Inc.’s corporate headquarters at 770 Broadway remained closed Thursday due to power outages.

The Talbots Inc. had two stores closed in Westport and Greenwich, Conn., due to no power and flooding on lower levels. Talbots’ three New York City stores reopened Thursday but on a limited schedule after power came back. Talbots, as of Thursday, had 10 New Jersey stores closed since Monday due to no power, flooding and roof leaks. “Our Morristown store sustained roof damage due to fallen trees,” said a spokeswoman. When asked when Talbots expects to reopen its stores, she said, “It all depends on when we get power back. New Jersey PSE&G is saying hopefully by Monday. Connecticut the same, and we do have some repair work for Westport once we get power back.”

Nordstrom Inc. still had a few stores without power and closed in the New York-New Jersey area. “We’re working on getting generators to them as quickly as possible. These include our Freehold, N.J., store, and Rack stores in Long Island (Huntington and Westbury Plaza) and Union Square,” a spokeswoman said. The Nordstrom stores in the Westchester and the Short Hills Mall are both open, but Nordstrom’s Jeffrey store in the Chelsea section of Manhattan remained closed. “We fortunately suffered very little damage in any of our stores,” said a spokeswoman.

Lori Friedman, owner of Great Stuff, which has stores in Greenwich and Westport, Conn., and Scarsdale, Rye and Chappaqua, N.Y., said all her stores were closed on Monday and Tuesday, but on Wednesday reopened in Scarsdale, Greenwich and Rye. “There were no problems at all there, and they’re doing business,” said Friedman.

However, the whole town of Chappaqua has closed down, and that store hasn’t reopened, she said. “There’s no damage to the store, but we’re taking some merchandise to other stores that are functioning. The big problem was in Westport.” The retailer opened a unit there in August “and we had a foot-and-a-half of water in the store, and the couch was floating.” Merchandise was above the water line, and removed in time. She hopes to reopen Westport by the weekend.

Friedman, who visited her Westport store on Thursday, said: “Main Street looks like [the aftermath of Hurricane] Katrina. Every store is closed. People have their doors open and are trying to dry out,” from the Saugatuck River that surged. “People are waiting for the electricity to go back on so they can use a humidifier or air conditioner.” She said her neighbors — Intermix, Theory, Lululemon, Shoes ‘N’ More and Shoe-Inn are all affected.