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Stores Cope With Storm Impact Along Gulf Coast

While Isaac lost its hurricane status on Wednesday afternoon, the redesignated tropical storm continues to wreak havoc.

While Isaac lost its hurricane status on Wednesday afternoon, the redesignated tropical storm continues to wreak havoc along the Gulf Coast.

Heavy rainfall, storm surge flooding, strong winds and possible tornadoes are expected to continue through today. Images of overtopped levees, flooding, downed power lines and power outages brought to mind the damage left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina seven years ago.

Retailers with stores that were affected by Katrina remember that it was a long road back to profitability. However, Katrina was a nine-day weather event. While Isaac is moving at a snail’s pace, with its center expected to hover over Louisiana until late Thursday, the National Hurricane Center said Isaac and its remnants should dissipate during Labor Day weekend.

Wal-Mart, which closed 62 stores and Sam’s Clubs, mostly in Louisiana, declined to estimate sales losses during Isaac. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates annual retail sales in New Orleans alone to be $10.4 billion.

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“We’re pre-staging in Baton Rouge,” a Wal-Mart spokeswoman said Wednesday afternoon. “[Isaac] is such a slow moving storm and so big, it hasn’t really arrived here yet. Our crews are strategically placed throughout the Gulf Coast. They’re ready to roll in once they get the say so. Luckily, we’re very fortunate at this point; we have no significant damages. We closed our stores in Baton Rouge early so our associates could be with their families. Pending the outcome of the storm, we’ll evaluate when we’ll reopen.”

Macy’s closed its five Louisiana stores on Tuesday and Wednesday. The stores are in the Mall of Louisiana and Cortana stores in Baton Rouge, the store in Lafayette is in the Acadiana Mall, and two units in New Orleans are in the Lakeside and Esplanade shopping centers. Local teams will reassess when it’s safe to reopen those stores, Macy’s said. As of Wednesday, Macy’s had no information as to whether there was any damage to any of the stores.

The storm is expected to move next through to Arkansas, though Macy’s does not operate any stores in that state.

“It’s not like Katrina; nevertheless, this is something we are watching closely,” said Terry J. Lundgren, Macy’s Inc. chairman, chief executive officer and president. He said that since the storm is moving slowly, there’s time to communicate with stores and make decisions on protecting personnel and property.

Target Corp. operates 26 stores in the forecast path of Isaac, 11 of which were closed due to the weather. Many stores around New Orleans opened earlier than usual on Tuesday morning to serve the local community and closed early Tuesday afternoon to allow “team members adequate time to get home safely,” a spokeswoman said.

“We definitely do have some stores that are impacted, approximately 10 full-line Sears stores and 10 Kmart stores,” said a Sears Holdings Corp. spokeswoman. “They closed at various times. We’ve been bringing supplies into the area to help customers get through the storm — bottled water, batteries, flashlights, chainsaws and generators. We have additional trucks at the periphery of the storms. Right now, the storm is sitting over us and it hasn’t passed. Once we get the clearance from the National Weather Service that it’s safe to reopen, we’ll open.”

Box retailers and department stores downplayed the lost sales while highlighting their community involvement. The Sears spokeswoman said, “We’re much more efficient at it. Katrina was a learning opportunity for us and other retailers in the community. We’ve formed better partnerships with FEMA and other disaster relief organizations.”