By: Kathryn Hopkins
Hundreds of stores were closed across the region as retailers braced themselves for Hurricane Florence.
Many retailers in the Carolinas started to reopen their doors Sunday after hundreds of stores and restaurants were forced to close as Florence battered the region.
Despite being downgraded from a hurricane to a tropical depression, Florence still wreaked havoc with high winds and heavy rain causing at least 14 fatalities and leaving around 1 million people across the region without power.
As a precaution, many retailers battened down the hatches and started to shutter their doors on Thursday. Some locations were deemed safe to reopen on Sunday, but others were kept closed.
Weather forecasting firm Planalytics has estimated that the impact of Florence on the retail sector is $700 million in lost sales, compared with $1 billion from Hurricane Harvey.
Experts don’t believe the fallout from the storm will change the overall retail picture as the industry gears up for the vital Christmas trading period. They are confident that the strong consumer spending that retailers have seen over the past few months, on the back of tax cuts and a strong labor market, will continue into the Christmas season.
“Total retail for 2017 grew by 4.2 percent. The positive gains in 2017’s retail sector were made against the backdrop of seven hurricanes that hit the U.S.,” said Dr. Lessie Branch, an associate professor and associate dean in the School for Business at Metropolitan College of New York.
“With the exception of Maria in Puerto Rico, the same is likely to be the case for Florence and other storms. Those economies will be briefly interrupted, but they will bounce back.”
Analysts at economics consultancy IHS Global Insight added that while it’s too soon to gauge the impact on GDP from Florence, past experience suggests only a modest hit to third-quarter economic growth and a small boost to fourth-quarter growth.
Their research found that hurricanes, while having a devastating impact in directly affected areas, also give rise to activity that otherwise would not take place. Prime examples include preparation, travel and lodging associated with evacuation as well as recovery.
Another possible offset is geographically re-sourced activity. That is, with a few days of notice, business can re-source activity away from potentially affected areas to businesses in other areas that can “pick up the slack,” IHS said.
As of Sunday morning, Hudson’s Bay Co. had reopened the three Saks Off 5th stores and one Saks Fifth Avenue in the Carolinas that it had shut as a precaution, while J.C. Penney had reopened 21 stores but kept seven across the two states closed.
Just three of Target Inc.’s stores were still still dark on Sunday, compared with the 23 that had been closed. Walmart Inc.’s store closures across the region stood at approximately 39.
Among the malls that remained closed was the Coastal Grand Mall in Myrtle Beach, S.C. It has around 172 stores including Old Navy, H&M and Dick’s Sporting Goods. It plans to open its doors once again today.
For the stores that it kept open, Target identified 1,500 products that its customers needed most, such as bottles of water, flashlights and batteries and shipped as many extra trailers of those items to stores before the storm hit.
“As guests stock up, we know some of these items are selling out, but we’re working around the clock to restock them as long as we safely can,” it said.
Walmart and Sam’s Club, meanwhile, launched a customer campaign on Saturday to assist impacted communities with hurricane relief. Customers will be able to donate online and the Walmart 2018 Hurricane Relief Fund at Foundation for the Carolinas will match customer donations two-to-one with cash donations up to $5 million for disaster response and recovery.
Fears are high that there could be more casualties and destruction to come as more flooding is forecast into this week. The National Weather Service is predicting that seven rivers in North Carolina could hit major flooding levels over the next few days.
“The rainfall is epic, and will continue to be….We face walls of water, at our coast, along our rivers, across farmland, in our cities and in our towns,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said at a press conference.
“The water is rising fast everywhere, even in places that don’t typically flood…. Many people who think that the storm has missed them have yet to see its threat.”