ATLANTA — Widespread power failures forced many Florida retailers to remain closed Tuesday, more than 24 hours after Hurricane Wilma roared across the state.
At least 3.2 million homes and businesses were without electricity, according to Florida Power and Light. The utility said it could be a month before service is back to normal.The latest assessments indicated that physical damage to stores was minimal, though flooding persisted.
Catastrophe assessment companies estimated insured losses from Wilma as high as $9 billion. Risk Management Solutions Inc. of Newark, Calif., said the high density of property in Miami could cause even a low level of damage to drive up losses. Boston-based AIR Worldwide Corp. projected $6 billion to $9 billion in insured losses, estimating more than $500 billion of insured properties in Miami-Dade and Broward counties alone, according to a statement from Jayanta Guin, vice president, research and modeling.
Analysts said the surge in hurricanes this year would not have long-term effects on Florida retail or permanently dampen the Sunshine State’s appeal.
“Florida has the strongest economy in the nation, and all sectors are strong [including retail],” said Mark Vitner, senior economist, Wachovia Corp. “Despite the four storms last year, 440,000 new residents moved to the state.”
Florida has the lowest unemployment, 3.5 percent, of any state, and is on a pace to add 300,000 new jobs this year. The South Florida area is saturated with retail, much of it high-end, but demand continues to keep pace with new development, Vitner said. Hurricane Wilma hit at a slow retail time — before the holiday season, and before the post-Thanksgiving return of winter residents.
Retailers in the densely stored areas of Miami-Dade County and the west coast of Florida continued their damage assessments Tuesday and looked for power to be restored within days.
Neiman Marcus reported six of its eight Florida stores, all in South Florida’s east and west coasts, were closed. With no reports of structural or merchandise damage, stores will remain shut until power returns, spokeswoman Ginger Reeder said.
J.C. Penney said 12 of its 55 Florida stores were shut with the situation “changing by the hour,” as some slowly regain power, said spokesman Tim Lyons.
Wilma’s timing, with stores ramping up for holiday, was not ideal for downtime, but not as bad as it could have been during a key season such as back-to-school, Lyons said.
Five Macy’s stores sustained “moderate damage” from wind. The units are at The Falls in Miami, Plantation Mall in Plantation, City Place in West Palm Beach, Sunrise Galleria in Fort Lauderdale and Boynton Beach Mall in Boynton Beach, said Federated Department Stores spokesman Jim Sluzewski. He added that 30 Macy’s stores in South Florida remained closed because of lack of power. Macy’s corporate headquarters in Miami reopened Tuesday.
Chico’s headquarters in Fort Myers, Fla., opened with around 25 percent of the 700 employees absent because of storm-related issues. A total of 40 Chico’s, White House|Black Market and Soma stores were shuttered.
Michael Smith, vice president, investor and community relations, for Chico’s, said the business interruption for Chico’s 60 Florida stores, which he estimated at three days, would be less than the cumulative effect of the four storms that hit Florida last year.
Both power and water were down at Wellington Green shopping center near Palm Beach, which remained closed. The Taubman Centers Inc. property suffered no major structural damage, but wind damaged landscaping and scattered debris.