Retailers across the Carolinas were largely in limbo Monday as the region braces itself for days of flooding.
After lashing the Carolinas with ferocious winds and heavy rain over the weekend and claiming at least 23 lives, the one-time hurricane, now classified as a tropical depression, continued to drench the region as it headed across North Carolina toward Virginia.
With land unable to absorb any more water and many rivers due to crest over the next few days, the U.S. National Weather Service warned of flash floods and landslides in North Carolina due to “prolonged significant river flooding” over the next few days.
“The soil is soaked and can’t absorb any more rain, so that water has to go somewhere, unfortunately,” said Zach Taylor, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “Those rivers are going to start to crest later today and Tuesday and maybe longer.”
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper told a news conference: “The storm has never been more dangerous than it is right now.”
Retailers who have a presence in the region shut hundreds of stores over the weekend as a precaution and while the lion’s share of them had reopened by Monday, companies stressed that they were monitoring the weather event closely.
As of Monday afternoon, only four of J.C. Penney’s stores in the Carolinas remained dark, compared with 25 at one point. A message on its web site stated that it would continue to closely monitor the storm’s path and its potential impact to stores located along the Southeast coast.
Walmart Inc., meanwhile, kept approximately 15 stores closed, down from 39 Sunday, while all of Target Inc.’s stores were open for business.
It wasn’t just stores that were affected as Gildan Activewear Inc., the Montreal-based maker of T-shirts and athletic apparel, told WWD that it decided to close a small yarn-spinning facility in Clarkton, N.C., as the storm approached. It has remained shut as there was relatively severe flooding and power outages in the eastern North Carolina region where the facility is located.
Gildan also closed its Charleston, S.C., distribution and office facility last Wednesday due to concerns over employees traveling to work, but reopened that Sunday morning.
“We are monitoring the situation in this area closely and will be able to provide more details as things progress,” a spokesman for Gildan said.
Of the stores that were open, home improvement retailers were the main beneficiaries of Florence over the weekend, with North Carolina-based Lowe’s Cos. Inc. coming out top.
According to a note by investment bank Jefferies, there was strong demand for hurricane preparedness products at both Home Depot and Lowe’s as Florence battered the region.
“We spent hours speaking with sales associates at all the Home Depot and Lowe’s locations within a 175-mile radius of Wilmington, N.C., to get a read on closures, adjusted store hours, popular products, out-of-stocks and labor scheduling. Based on geographical exposure, Lowe’s will likely be the largest beneficiary,” the note said.
Generators were the most commonly cited item, followed by water, gas cans, tarps, flashlights, batteries, sand and extension cords, in order from most frequently mentioned to least.