THE BIG SNOW
THAT’S SNOW BIZ
NEW YORK — Cross-country skiers on Madison, tourists with cabin fever negotiating curbside snow drifts, fur-clad women peering dejectedly into the windows at a closed Saks Fifth Avenue and Calvin Klein riding the subway to work. Those were just a few scenes here amid this week’s gargantuan snowstorm, which knocked out retailing through much of the East Monday.
In New York, a few of the big stores surprisingly managed to open their doors — Bloomingdale’s, Macy’s and Bergdorf Goodman among them — while the Gaps, Limiteds and virtually all other specialty stores were out for the count.
Millions of dollars in sales have been lost, but store executives said it wasn’t quite the nightmare that preceded Christmas.
“Compared to the five or six days of snow that hit us in December, this is a minimal concern,” said Hal Kahn, chairman and chief executive officer of Macy’s East, which managed to open its Herald Square flagship Monday, but kept 47 Macy’s branches and nine Jordan Marsh stores closed.
A state of emergency was declared in areas as far west as Ohio, airports were closed from Richmond to Boston, and federal workers in Washington found themselves with yet another day home despite the end of a three-week budget-impelled furlough.
Highways in New Jersey, where a state of emergency was declared, were closed except to emergency vehicles. Malls stayed closed and by noon, the blizzard dumped a record 27 inches in Newark.
Heavy snow caused the roof of a T.J. Maxx store in Edison, N.J., to collapse early this morning. “It was the weight of the snow, and the roof wasn’t really designed to handle it,” said Lt. Stephen Staback of the Edison Police Department. There were no injuries, because the collapse occurred shortly after 6 a.m., Staback said. Police were keeping a close eye on the building until the gas could be shut off in case a fire started, Staback said.
The snow in Washington began tapering off around noon Monday, although strong winds kept the white stuff swirling and drifting. In New York City, the snow continued steadily until around 2 p.m., but strong winds and high snow drifts made the streets miserable to walk.
According to Kahn, the lost volume is insignificant compared with what was missed in December. Kahn was more concerned about the safety of employees — and taking inventory, which was scheduled to start Monday evening and continue Tuesday morning. A spokesman said it would be delayed and held through Tuesday. At Macy’s Herald Square, about 250 of 800 sales associates showed up for work Monday.
Michael Gould, chairman and ceo of Bloomingdale’s, which also managed to open its Manhattan flagship, but kept all other East Coast stores closed, said this is not planned as a “colossal” week for business — but the storm would still take its toll. “Every day is a multi-million-dollar day,” he said, adding that the blizzard short-circuited momentum seen last week, when sales ran 11 percent ahead of last year.
J.C. Penney closed 155 stores Sunday in Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said a spokesman, who estimated it was the most closings ever caused by one snow event.
Stores that remained open in those states and in Ohio and on New York’s Long Island experienced “significant sales losses,” the spokesman said. Penney’s had no information available on how stores were closed Monday since decisions were made locally, the spokesman said.
“If stores can’t be staffed, or if there is a road emergency, they will be closed,” he said. “All of our eastern Pennsylvania stores were closed because the governor declared a road emergency there. Also, all of our stores in the Washington, D.C.-Baltimore metro area were closed.”
Midtown Manhattan shopping was frozen out, with Lord & Taylor, Saks Fifth Avenue and Henri Bendel staying shut along with most smaller specialty stores. Store after store on the chicest strips remained closed.
On Fifth Avenue, from 59th street south, the scene was surreal. As small clusters of tourists gamely tromped in search of a sale, the only welcoming site was Bergdorf Goodman. Inside, an employee lightheartedly informed a woman that he didn’t know “what you’ll be able to find, but we’ll take your money.” A stroll through the store found many of the counters unmanned; still, the number of employees matched the number of customers.
“Many tourists at hotels in the vicinity couldn’t wait for the doors to open this morning, especially since we’re closed Sunday,” said a Bergdorf’s salesperson. “We also did some very good business, and even had one big [fine jewelry] sale.”
The main floor accessories department also was packed with exhibitors who were showing their lines at the Plaza Hotel.
By noon, a salesman in Bergdorf’s second-floor shoe department said, “We’ve sold a lot of boots. It’s been a good day so far.”
A cashmere sweater department on the third floor was a popular area with 10 customers busily perusing through merchandise. Sweaters were marked down 40 percent.
“It’s been really surprising,” said a saleswoman in the Malo sweater department on the fourth floor. “I think a lot of people have cabin fever, especially people staying at the Plaza Hotel.”
Along East 57th Street, between Fifth and Park Avenues, practically every specialty retail store was closed by noon, including David Webb, Warner Bros., The Original Levi’s Store, Chanel, Escada, Burberrys, Prada Moda and Victoria’s Secret. Two exceptions were Louis Vuitton and HermAs. Patricia Champier, manager of the Vuitton unit, said she planned to close the store by early afternoon.
Also shut because of the blizzard were two ready-to-wear stores on Park Avenue, between 58th and 59th Streets, Maison Mendesolle and Linda Dresner.
Lord & Taylor had a handwritten sign on the front door: “Store closed today due to weather.”
Even Saks Fifth Avenue, where a number of potential shoppers peered into the front windows, had its gates down. The three Barneys New York stores here were closed. At Bloomingdale’s, ceo Gould surveyed the main floor.
“I was here at 8:30 this morning, and we made the determination that we had enough salespeople and executives to properly staff the store,” he said. “We opened at 10, and there were people waiting to get in — it’s true.”
The flagship was also open on Sunday and made 75 percent of its sales plan, according to Gould.
“The shoe category was actually way ahead,” he said. “Cold weather merchandise, of course, was well ahead and is doing well today.”
“This store is different in that it’s situated in a residential area,” Gould noted. “When [locals] get cabin fever, they’ll come out to the store if they know we’re open.
“But most of the customers you see in here are international tourists,” he added.
As he pondered whether the store would close a little early, as it had on Sunday, Gould greeted incoming store personnel. “There’s a lot of activity in men’s accessories — do we have enough sales staff over there?” he asked one passing executive.
In fact, one shopper said the store missed at least one snow-inspired opportunity: Rummaging through Bloomingdale’s he failed to find a simple wool knit cap. Frustrated by a small selection of brightly colored polyester versions, he chose to go elsewhere.
As for the tourist trade, though they could find little shopping activity, they weren’t about to retreat to their hotel suites. Said one woman from under her parka hood: “Okay, let’s go see what’s happening at Rockefeller Center.”
Elsewhere around Manhattan, only two of the 28 Gaps were open, while the uptown scene was deserted. The Chanel boutique on 57th was closed due to “inclement weather,” according to the outgoing message. Ralph Lauren was open for an hour Monday morning and then closed because people were “too afraid to come out into the blizzard.”
In the Washington area, the Sassafras chain was shuttered all day Sunday and Monday, said Mike Rider, ceo.
“Realistically, Wednesday is the earliest we’ll be reopening,” Rider said.”Remember, most of our stores are in strip malls, and they haven’t even begun to think about plowing” those areas.
The Shops at Georgetown Park, an urban mall that relies largely on pedestrian business from locals and tourists, closed its doors Sunday and Monday. “It would be easy enough to open the mall, but it’s a question of can the retailers get their staffs in,” said Chris Borgal, assistant property manager.
Borgal said he expected to open the mall by noon Tuesday, but some stores would remain closed because of stranded employees. Secondary roads in the Washington area were not expected to be plowed until Tuesday.
In Philadelphia, the 13 Strawbridge & Clothier department stores and 27-unit Clover discount division were also closed Sunday and Monday, said Peter S. Strawbridge, president.
“We’ll hopefully open them tomorrow, but we really have to wait and see what kind of conditions the roads are in,” Strawbridge said.
Minneapolis-based Target Stores Inc. was one of the only retailers in its operating areas to remain open during the storm.
Although hit hard by snow, Target stores in Raleigh-Durham and Rocky Mount, N.C., maintained regular hours. Similar activity was seen at Target stores in Ohio, although a Columbus store was forced to close at 8 p.m. instead of 10 p.m. because of a citywide curfew, Sands said. Targets in Arkansas, Kentucky and Tennessee also remained open, Sands said.