Businesses rush to reopen and stock for recovery

Staff WriterAugust 30, 2011 

Grocers, home-improvement stores and other retailers are seeing a boost in business in the wake of Hurricane Irene as homeowners buy supplies to clean up and repair damage.

It's a small bright spot from the storm, which could have a major economic impact on many businesses in hard-hit areas, especially those that depend on tourists. Even retailers that benefit from the post-storm clean-up lost some sales when they closed stores during the storm.

Food Lion closed 350 stores over the weekend and has managed to reopen many of those, including four Outer Banks locations, on Monday morning, said ChristyPhillips-Brown, a spokeswoman for the Salisbury-based grocery chain.

The Food Lion in Avon reopened Monday afternoon and was the only grocery store in the community with electricity, Phillips-Brown said.

But nearly 50 Food Lions along the coast of North Carolina and Virginia and in the Richmond area remained closed.

"We are working as quickly as possible to restore operations to these locations, many of which are without power at this time," she said. "We are seeing increased traffic in our stores as we reopen" and customers buy cleaning supplies and restock food.

Lowe's shipped more than 1,000 extra truckloads of flashlights, batteries and other emergency supplies to East Coast stores, spokesman Steve Salazar said. A new shipment of generators arrived in Long Island on Monday morning.

The Mooresville-based chain closed six stores over the weekend in areas under mandatory evacuation. All are open again except one in Hackettstown, N.J., which has local flooding.

"It's the typical post-hurricane items that are in demand," Salazar said. Customers still want batteries and flashlights, but also are buying rakes, trash bags, cleaning supplies, mops and brooms, sump pumps and shop vacs.

Home Depot also shipped extra truckloads to its East Coast stores and is seeing a surge in demand for chainsaws, cleaning products and vacuums, spokesman Stephen Holmes said.

The Atlanta-based chainalso is redeploying some employees from Greensboro and Charlotte to the harder-hit areas of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, Va., to handle the extra business, he said.

Home Depot closed about 30 stores along the East Coast during the storm but tried to reopen quickly as the hurricane moved north. As of Monday, five remained closed because of road problems or damage to the stores.

"Our goal is to be the last to close and first to reopen," Holmes said.

Meanwhile, department stores and other retailers selling clothing and back-to-school supplies probably took a hit over the weekend as the storm dampened shoppers' enthusiasm, Lazard Capital analyst Jennifer Davis told Bloomberg News.

alan.wolf@newsobserver.com or 919-829-4572

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