ATLANTA — Anxiety over lost business and storm fatigue is building for Florida retailers still without electricity after Hurricane Wilma.
Restoration of service has been a slow process, with an estimated 2.2 million business and residential customers still in the dark on Thursday. Florida Power and Light estimated full power might not be back to all areas until Nov. 22. Lines at operating gas stations were long.
“People are very frustrated this time,” said Rick McAllister, president and chief executive officer of the Florida Retail Federation, a trade association with 11,000 members. “Three counties, Dade, Broward and Palm Beach, represent one-third of Florida’s population and they are huge retail markets.”
While there were no estimates on how much total retail revenue was being lost, McAllister said 50 to 70 percent of stores in affected areas remained closed. He said retail may not get the bounce back after Wilma that boosted business following previous storms, especially Hurricane Andrew in 1992.
“This storm didn’t do the total damage that Andrew did, so people may not have as much money to spend from insurance checks,” he said.
“It’s too early to judge lost sales, or to know how to plan ahead,” said Dan Doyle, vice president, human resources, loss prevention, for Bealls Inc., a Bradenton, Fla.-based department store chain with 555 stores, 350 in Florida. “If this ends now, we’ll have two months distance between now and holiday and have most stores up and running, but many people will probably be affected and not able to spend what they anticipated.”
As of Thursday, 33 Bealls Outlet stores were closed, with eight Bealls department stores closed. At least four stores will be a total loss, Doyle said.
“Power is the overriding issue,” he said.
Eight high-end specialty boutiques in The Breakers, the iconic Palm Beach hotel, remained shut, including Absolutely Suitable, designer swimwear; Piaget; Guerlain; Polo Ralph Lauren, and others. The stores did a total of $10.3 million in annual sales last year, a spokeswoman said. The hotel is closed and without power.
A Nose for Clothes, a Miami-based better to bridge sportswear chain with nine stores, reopened two of six Florida units, in Aventura Mall and Coral Springs, on Thursday after power was restored, and operated its Hollywood, Fla., location without electricity. Company headquarters in Miami was closed, said ceo Joe Falowitz.
“We’ve lost four days of business in our Florida stores, which could mean $250,000,” he said. “We’re thinking of opening without power if stores are safe and accessible.”
Bal Harbour Shoppes, a luxe mall north of Miami Beach, reopened Thursday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., because of curfews.
“The most serious issue, now that we have power, is gas shortages,” a spokeswoman said. “We’re canceling events in the next week that usually kick off the season because we don’t know if people will be able to get around, given the situation. Each day brings a new reality.”
There are also concerns that snowbirds will hesitate to migrate to Florida this winter.
“The season may be slow in starting this year,” said Jim Morton, vice president, sales, of Mark Fore & Strike, a 12-store men’s and women’s sportswear chain based in Boyton Beach. “Our biggest challenge will be in communicating to our customers up North that we will be open for business and the shopping is good.”