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Tampa Bay faces shortages from Hurricane Ian. Stores brace for recovery.

Sales have jumped ahead of the storm, but stores are bracing for shutdowns and supply chain issues.

By Bernadette Berdychowski, Times staff

The only bottled water left at a Publix in Pinellas Park on Monday were pricier brands like Voss and Fiji.

At a Walgreens nearby, employees laid out whatever flashlights the store had left across an empty cash register counter.

Gas stations across St. Petersburg wrapped pumps in plastic bags when they ran out of fuel.

Tampa Bay residents have been stocking up ahead of Hurricane Ian’s arrival, which is expected to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday evening into Thursday morning. But people with last-minute needs should expect shelves to be empty ahead of the storm and possibly in the days or weeks after. Stores may also close earlier than usual to allow time for employees to get to safety.

Grocery and convenience stores see their revenues increase between 5% to 10% about three days before a hurricane hits, according to Planalytics, a data firm that tracks weather’s effect on shopping. A day before a major storm, sales can increase 30 to 50% compared to normal. . . .

. . . Walmart is also preparing for the storm.

“We’re closely watching Hurricane Ian’s track and are working to make sure our stores are prepared to safely serve our customers and communities, both before and after the storm,” Walmart spokesperson Robert Arrieta said in an email.

This potential major hurricane could hit one of the most-vulnerable metropolitan areas at a time it was economically booming after the pandemic.

While sales are surging ahead of Hurricane Ian, businesses are preparing to take a financial hit as forecasters expect Hurricane Ian slow down along the Gulf Coast and prolong the time stores stay closed. . . .

. . . Historically speaking, in 2017, sales ahead of Hurricane Irma jumped about $31 million in Pinellas County, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. But during the storm and after, sales dropped by approximately $100 million with stores closed for about four or five days. The following week, sales dropped about $15 million as stores struggled to restock. Other hospitality sectors like restaurants and entertainment lost $56 million in sales.

Hourly employees are also not paid when stores are closed. About 200,000 workers in Pinellas County weren’t paid for several days during Irma. . . .

. . . FSU’s Smith said Florida should brace for both short-term and long-term economic impacts from Hurricane Ian. There were still signs of damage in New Orleans a decade after Hurricane Katrina, Smith said. It could take years for the region to recover, depending on how hard the major storm will hit, and material shortages could make recovery tougher.

“For short-term recovery, we’re gonna expect to see things like damaged homes and damaged businesses … If we are hit hard, that will linger.”

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