FLOYD DAMPENS RETAIL SALES AS STORM FORCES EARLY CLOSINGS

NEW YORK — It was, of course, a retail washout.
While Hurricane Floyd didn’t do the physical damage to stores that some of its predecessors did, it nevertheless managed to put a big dent in what’s been a strong month so far by creating early closings and intimidating shoppers.
Some Manhattan retailers reported Floyd didn’t totally kill business Thursday, particularly in tourist pockets like Madison Avenue and Rockefeller Center, where visitors took refuge from the rain in stores such as Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue. Retailers enjoyed decent traffic in the morning, but by early afternoon, many were closed.
Elsewhere along the Eastern seaboard, retailers reported little if any damage to stores from the hurricane, primarily citing floods and power outages at coastal sites. But, to be on the safe side, there were massive closings — the big discounters shut scores of stores in Southern and mid-Atlantic states — and retailers were deeply concerned about the loss of business in tourist, coastal and resort communities.
In Florida and South Carolina, for example, the scenes of massive evacuations earlier in the week, stores were closed for a day or two.
“Business is going to stink Thursday and Friday in areas affected by the hurricane, whether the stores are open or not,” said Joseph R. Ettore, president and ceo of Ames Department Stores, based in Rocky Hill, Conn. Ames closed five stores starting Wednesday. “But I don’t think it will affect our monthly comps dramatically.”
By mid-afternoon, the rains let up temporarily. Earlier, however, Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani advised major businesses to send employees home early due to anticipated transportation difficulties. Retailers including Saks Fifth Avenue began closing their doors at noon. An hour later, Barneys New York did the same.
Lord & Taylor stores in the Washington and Baltimore area did not open at all Thursday, while the chain’s stores in the Northeast closed at 3 p.m., and the Fifth Avenue flagship closed at 2 p.m. Macy’s Herald Square also closed at around 3, while Bloomingdale’s closed its 59th Street flagship at 2 p.m.
“There were customers galore in the store, but we closed early because of our associates,” said Michael Gould, Bloomingdale’s chairman and ceo.
“We want them to get home safely. Not everyone lives within walking distance. Support areas and offices were closed at 1 p.m. Our Long Island and New Jersey stores closed around that time, too.”
Gould added that Blooming-dale’s four Florida stores were closed for most of Monday and all day Tuesday, and were back in business Wednesday. Business has been strong for Bloomingdale’s this month, but the closings had an effect.
“Unless you want to add a [store] event to the calendar, the business does not come back naturally. It’s a setback,” he acknowledged.
Specialty stores were also affected. A spokeswoman for Giorgio Armani said the Armani boutique at 760 Madison Avenue and the Emporio Armani units at 601 Madison Avenue and 110 Fifth Avenue, closed at 1 p.m. So did Chanel on East 57th Street.
At Jeffrey, the new designer store on West 14th Street, some employees didn’t make it to work, said a spokeswoman.
“I just talked to Alexander McQueen’s people and they are definitely going forward with the show,” she said. “We aren’t sure what we should do. I was just on the phone with Jeffrey [Kalinsky, the owner]. He’s not quite sure what to do. I’ve given him the advice to close at 2 p.m.”
For the first time, NikeTown New York, which opened at 6 East 57th Street in 1996, closed early, a spokeswoman said. The company also closed its Miami store early Tuesday.
Cole Haan, a subsidiary of Nike, shut its Madison Avenue and Rockefeller Center stores at noon Thursday. The store in Orlando reopened Thursday after being closed Wednesday, and other outlets in different cities closed temporarily earlier in the week.
Yildiz Yuksek, president of Luca Luca, which has two stores on Madison Avenue, said, “We’re not planning to close early. We’re praying that it’s going to be fine because we have a show tomorrow — our first show. It’s going to be in the Pavilion tent at 5 p.m. Yesterday, we had a very busy day. It’s still early now. We’re not closing yet, but if it gets worse perhaps we will.
At noon Thursday, a Donna Karan spokeswoman said the DKNY store at 655 Madison Avenue would maintain normal business hours.
Like Bloomingdale’s, business at Saks, which has some 15 stores in the Southeast, was hurt by evacuations during the week, particularly in Florida.
“Everything in the Southeast was affected,” said Robert Ferreira, executive vice president of human resources, service and selling.
Saks told employees to check their message systems at work for a status report on Friday. Decisions on opening or closing Saks stores are made by the local store management, Ferreira noted. Saks buyers, he added, attended the New York fashion shows that were held Thursday.
While businesses along the Southeast coastline avoided structural damages, flooding and power outages were a problem. Many stores closed for mandatory evacuations Tuesday, remained closed Wednesday, and were scheduled to reopen Thursday.
A spokesman for the Emergency Operations Center of North Carolina’s New Hanover County — where the storm hit Wednesday night — said in Wilmington, N.C., and coastal areas damage to businesses was less than expected. However, 80 percent of the area was without power Thursday. Damage to Wilmington’s downtown shops and boutiques was minimal, but flooding from 20 inches of rain Wednesday and fallen tree limbs caused transportation problems, hindering stores from resuming operations.
Belk Stores, based in Charlotte, N.C., closed many of its Southeast coastal stores Tuesday and Wednesday. Virginia Beach area stores were closed Thursday.
Steve Pernotto, senior vice president of human resources, said Belk had no damage to any stores and no employees were injured, although he was unsure of the situation in the Wilmington area.
Westfield Shoppingtown Independence Mall, Wilmington’s major retail center, anchored by Belk, Penney’s, and Sears, as well as 85 specialty stores, closed Wednesday and Thursday, but planned to reopen today, provided electrical power was restored. Aside from losing power, only minor leaks occurred, said Helen Lewis, general manager. She said Sears planned to sell supplies in the parking lot to storm victims today.
Stein Mart, based in Jacksonville, Fla., closed all its East Coast stores at various points during the week, as the storm made its march north. A spokesman for the city of Myrtle Beach, S.C., said there was only minimal water damage from the 20 inches of rain.
“We were expecting worse,” the spokesman said. He said the financial impact would be bigger than the physical impact of the storm. “The biggest problem for businesses will not come from the storm, but from two days of closings for the evacuation.”
Washington escaped the brunt of the storm. Malls in the area braced for Floyd, but all were open and expected more business than on a normal weekday.
Despite flood warnings in most of the area, Fashion Center at Pentagon City in Virginia kept normal business hours. So did Montgomery Mall in Bethesda, Md.
“We’re expecting more traffic today than usual, with the kids out of school,” Montgomery Mall manager Kelly Marfyak said. “It actually might end up being a bigger boost for business. We’ve had a couple more leaks than normal, but we’ve been relatively lucky.”
“We haven’t noticed any major effects from the storm,” a spokeswoman for Tyson’s Galleria Mall in Tyson’s Corner, Va., said. “We’re certainly expecting an increase in traffic. That’s typical on days like these.”
Smaller stores didn’t fare as well.
“Business has definitely been affected,” said Nancy Pearlstein, owner of Relish, a designer boutique next to Cartier on Wisconsin Avenue in Chevy Chase. “Yesterday, when it started raining, it slowed things down, and today we’ve only had two people in the door. This day last year I can tell you we were very, very busy.”
“I’m sure that most people are staying home today,” said Nick Kassman, general manager of the Harriet Kassman boutique in the Mazza Gallerie shopping center. “We haven’t seen a lot of traffic today.”
At Neiman Marcus in Tyson’s Galleria in Virginia, sales were slow in the morning. “I’m anticipating this afternoon we’ll be very busy because most of the parents are home with their kids and businesses are closing early,” said a spokeswoman. “But so far, it’s been really quiet.”
As of midday on Thursday, Neiman’s closed its Paramus and Short Hills, N.J., and King of Prussia, Pa., stores, said Karen Katz, executive vice president of stores.
Mass merchants closed scores of stores in Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and Virginia, between Tuesday and Thursday, for at least a day. Five major chains closed more than 200 units in the region. Closings included 90 Kmarts, 75 Wal-Marts and more than 40 Targets. Executives declined to estimate how much business they lost.
By Thursday morning, discounters were reopening most of their stores in Florida and Georgia, while preparing to shutter sites north of that.
“So far, Kmart has not experienced any significant damage to its stores in the Southeast,” said a spokeswoman around noon. “We’ve had some minor flooding in a couple of stores, but we don’t expect that to hurt us too badly.”
The Florida sites that had been closed by Kmart earlier in the week were reopened Thursday, but the company did not expect the stores it shut in South Carolina to be reopened until today. “In North Carolina, we will be closing stores this afternoon [Thursday], and probably Friday,” she added.
A spokeswoman for Target parent Dayton Hudson said Thursday, “We have a handful of Target stores in North Carolina, South Carolina, and Virginia that we closed today. Most of today’s closings were a result of city orders, or a lack of access to a store because of flooded roads.”
On Thursday, Target reopened 40 stores it had closed in Florida, the spokeswoman added.
Ames and Stein Mart also said damage to the stores could have been worse.
“They have a curfew in Wilmington [N.C.], but our store manager was able to get in and take a look at our store there, and said there was a minimum of damage,” said Ettore.
“We are all very thankful,” said Jay Stein, ceo of Stein Mart. “Certainly, there has been some impact. During the past three days, we closed fewer than 10 stores in Florida.”
Stein said the chain had a few sites in Florida that had not yet reopened Thursday.
Some chains aided the hurricane relief effort, including Wal-Mart, which donated $33,000 to the Red Cross unit in Georgia, where the greatest number of its stores were affected. Kmart this year donated a lump sum of $1 million to the Red Cross’s national organization, some of which will go to hurricane relief.
New England chains pondered what to do as the storm headed their way on Thursday night. Filene’s Basement, based in Wellesley, Mass., with 42 units on the East Coast, planned to keep its stores open Thursday, but Friday would be a wait-and-see situation. Talbots was determined to proceed with its plans to host a party for 400 people Thursday night at its newly renovated 15,000-square-foot flagship at 500 Boylston Street in Boston, a spokeswoman said. Thursday’s business at the store, which is twice as large as the old one, was “pretty good,” she said.
As of Thursday afternoon, the retailer had no plans to close stores in the Boston area, but that could change depending on weather conditions, the spokeswoman said.
Employees at Talbots distribution center in Lakeville, Mass., also expected to work a full day, at least on Thursday.
The TJX Companies, which operates 621 T.J. Maxx stores and 491 Marshall’s stores in the U.S., had a few early closings, though “nothing substantial,” a spokeswoman said.
“The good news is we have a wide reach nationally,” she said.
The company’s nearly 2,000 employees at its corporate headquarters in Framingham, Mass., planned to work through the day, the spokeswoman said.