Retailers from Washington, D.C., to New York and beyond started to return to life Sunday after a massive blizzard laid down more than two feet of snow and whipped up whiteout conditions that kept shoppers indoors and made travel near impossible.
More than 10,000 flights were cancelled during the course of the storm, according to FlightAware.com, complicating life for people headed to Europe for the couture shows or traveling to New York for trade shows.
Overall the storm is expected to exact a heavy toll, with forecasters putting the costs to the region at $750 million to $850 million on the high end.
The storm was as bad or worse than projected last week and retailers that started off Saturday hoping to remain open were forced to give in and close.
Bergdorf Goodman told social media followers on Saturday to, “Stay warm with a little shopping, the store is open!” But just two hours later, the retailer tweeted: “Due to the snowstorm the store is closing for the rest of the day. We will be open tomorrow morning. Stay warm!”
Some experts said that consumers, who have been spoiled by unusually warm weather so far this winter, will try to make up for lost time and start buying outerwear and cold weather accessories — one of the weakest performing categories in a weak holiday season.
But that remains largely a question for the future, with consumers and retailers still facing mounds of snow to be shoveled away.
New York lifted a travel ban on Sunday and most buses and subways resumed service by 9 a.m., with Metro-North train service up and running by 3 p.m.
Washington was preparing for a longer recovery period.
“This is not a one-day dig-out,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser on Sunday morning, after the snow fell for 36 hours straight. “We know that we are going to be dealing with snow throughout this week.”
Bowser said the Metro subway and bus service would remain shut on Sunday and that it was unlikely bus service would be restored on Monday. “Today is day one of our effort to dig out from two feet of snow,” she said at a separate news conference.
Most of the malls and stores that remained closed were in the Washington area.
Westfield reported that only three of its shopping centers were still closed, all in Maryland.
Target kept seven stores closed on Sunday. Three of the units were in Virginia, three in Maryland, and one in Pennsylvania. Wal-Mart said 43 stores remained closed on Sunday, down from 58 on Saturday.
Westfield’s Fair Oaks Mall in Fairfax, Va., remained closed Sunday. A check of Simon Property Group shopping centers found four malls in New Jersey closed on Sunday, four in Virginia, two in New York, and one each in Maryland and Pennsylvania.
Macy’s had 32 stores closed Sunday and modified late openings for another 52 units. Most Bloomingdale’s stores reopened at 10 a.m. Sunday. The outliers included the Westbury, N.Y., outlet store, which opened at 11 a.m., and Bloomingdale’s Washington unit which remained closed. A spokeswoman said coats, boots and cold weather accessories were “extremely busy” categories on Friday.
Chris G. Christopher, director of consumer economics at IHS Global Insight, said many areas of the economy, including apparel and accessories store sales and building materials stores, could see a boost from the storm, despite two to possibly three days of lost sales due to closures.
“We think clothing and accessories stores [specialty stores] will benefit from this storm,” Christopher said. “We had an unseasonably warm December and clothing tanked. There was excess inventory of clothing and the whole season so far was not in favor of winter weather fashion and clothing. Now you have a reason where people will get out and buy sweaters and boots so this kind of storm does have a benefit for certain segments of consumption after the fact and it could help reduce inventory buildup on clothing that had been noticeable in the third and fourth quarters last year.”
The IHS forecast for nominal retail sales at apparel and accessories stores in the first quarter before the storm was pegged at a 1.1 percent annualized growth rate, compared with the first quarter of 2015. The revised forecast with the storm impact included is now 4.3 percent annualized growth in the first quarter, Christopher said.
While specialty stores are expected to get a significant bump in sales after the storm, department stores are not likely to, Christopher said.
“We don’t think the storm will have a great impact on department stores,” he noted. “Given that they are a downward trajectory overall, we don’t think this is enough to spur department store sales.”
Retail apparel prices could also see a bit of a rebound associated with the expected surge in demand for clothing after the storm.
“This could also reverse clothing [Consumer Price Index] prices,” he added. “They have been discounting and prices have been falling. But with the rush to demand, retailers might feel a little resistant to discounting.”
Craig Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, said he did not expect the storm to “destroy demand” on a macroeconomic basis.
“It displaces it, either forward or backwards or online,” Johnson said. “In terms of creating demand, when you have a tornado or earthquake, there is no ahead-of-time to prepare. For hurricanes and snowstorms, they are often predicted in advance and people buy things ahead of time, including stuff they might not otherwise have bought. It won’t change things much for the overall quarter on a macroeconomic basis.”
However, Johnson said while Home Depot and Lowe’s might see a big boost in weather-related sales such as shovels and snow blowers, apparel stores will not see as much of an impact.
“When we get to apparel, we see modest buying,” Johnson said. “There are some people that might go out and buy an extra pair of gloves but we aren’t seeing a lot of that. If you made it through to Jan. 22 without buying a new parka because it was so warm this year, there is a good chance you may wait.”
Johnson said he expects this storm to have only a short-term impact.
“For the full quarter this won’t even be a blip,” he added, pointing to underperforming retailers who might cite lost sales due to store closures.
“Any major national chain will not get a negative hit from this, other than restaurants,” Johnson said. “People are still ordering online,” he said, adding that they will also pick up shopping where they left off when the storm is over.
But the blizzard could prove to be very costly overall.
Planalytics — a Pennsylvania-based business consultancy company that advises firms on weather-related profits and losses — said in a statement Friday that, “Based on GDP assumptions for January, and the estimated portion of the population in the storm’s path (75 million people), we expect the loss of economic activity to range between $585 million to $850 million.”
IHS pegged the cost of the massive storm between $350 million to $750 million, taking into account expenses to repair damage, insurance costs, lost sales and wages.
Some of those losses will be tied to business travel that was delayed or ultimately canceled.
Texworld USA and Milano Unica New York, two textile and sourcing trade shows set to run Sunday to Tuesday at New York’s Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, had delayed openings on Sunday due to the storm. Texworld opened at 11 a.m. instead of 10 a.m., and Milano Unica kicked off at noon instead of 9 a.m. Both exhibitions also extended their opening times on Sunday an extra hour until 7 p.m., and Texworld added an extra hour on Monday to close at 7 p.m.
The storm also impacted the start of men’s market week. Both MRkrt and Project delayed the opening of their shows on Sunday, with MRket opening at 11 a.m. and Project at noon.
A spokeswoman for MRket said the travel ban in New York City kept exhibitors from getting to the Javits Convention Center to set up on Saturday, forcing the delay.
Out-of-town retailers had trouble getting to New York.
Tim Ryan of Harleys in Milwaukee said his flights for both Saturday and Sunday were canceled, but he had rebooked for Monday and would extend his trip on the back end, “to get it all done. Hopefully the third time is a charm,” he posted on Facebook.