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Tina Benitez

Retailers Work on Recovery Post Hurricane Sandy

LancelottiLancelotti was closed five days following Sandy.
NEW YORK - As Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast last week, retailers braced for the worst. Some suffered severe damage following the superstorm, while others were virtually unscathed with the exception of a week-long closure due to power outages.

The storm, which hit the New York and New Jersey, Monday, Oct. 29, caused flooding in streets, tunnels and subway lines and cut power in and around the city. New Yorkers located below 34th Street in Manhattan, suffered power outages for five days, while parts of some of the outer boroughs suffered total destruction, including areas in Brooklyn,Staten Island and the Rockway section of Queens. In New Jersey, towns like Seaside Heights were nearly destroyed by massive flooding, high winds and beach erosion, while city of Hoboken, which had parts of it under water for days following Sandy, is slowly working on getting its power back on.

Just south of Hoboken, NJ, Kevin Brynan, owner, Mxyplyzyk, re-opened his shop in Jersey City just two days after the superstorm. Both of Brynan's Mxyplyzyk stores (his main store is located in NYC's Greenwich Village, which carry a whimsical array of gift and home furnishings store, escaped major flooding. Unfortunately, there wasn't much business on either side of the water since locals had more on their minds than shopping. Instead, Brynan used his newer Jersey City location as a charging station for people. Luckily for Brynan, the building in which the Jersey City Mxyplyzyk (open since October 2011) is situated had a back-up generator. "It was great," Brynan told Gifts & Decorative Accessories. "We got a real sense of community."

Brynan couldn't get into Manhattan to his other store, located on Greenwich Ave. since 1992, because there was no way in and out of the city for days. "For the most part, I was working on the Jersey side," said Brynan. "There was a lovely sense of community and of people helping one another. Fortunately, we had no physical loss just a loss of electricity."

In the Soho section of Lower Manhattan power was still out for five days following Sandy but was restored at the MOMA Design Store in Soho, and other parts of the area, by Friday evening following the storm. "We were back open for business Saturday," said Iliana Jimenez-Cajas, assistant manager at the Soho MOMA location. "We were fortunate enough that we didn't sustain any damages in the building."

Aside from the power outage, there was no severe water or other damages due to flooding and high winds, but business is taking awhile to get back to normal as people recover from the storm. "It [business] is starting to pick up a little bit," said Jimenez-Cajas. "Everyone is just kind of adjusting and trying to figure it all out. The first couple of weeks, it's more about necessities." The museum, located in Midtown had power following the storm and offered assistance and service to people without power, including the handing out of meals.

East of Soho, sections of the East Village suffered severe water and other damage as rising water ran down parts of Avenues B, C and D the night of the storm. Amaran, located on Avenue B and 7th St. was unscathed, despite the rising waters (at points nearly covering cars) just one avenue over. The store remained closed due to the power outage, but no inventory was not damaged.

Just one block over, Alphabets, a 26-year-old, retro gift shop, braced for the worst. The store moved its stock in the basement to higher grounds prior to the storm to prevent any damages from flooding. Luckily, there was no damage, but the store remained closed until power was restored in the neighborhood. Just two blocks south at Lancelotti, a gifts and home decor shop open for 17 years and also run by owners of Alphabets, lost five days of business, but nothing was damaged due to the severe flooding in the area. "We were concerned about the flooding," said Lauren Coullens, store manager, "but there's nothing else we can do when a storm comes in."

Lion in the SunBrooklyn's Lion in the Sun is open for business.
At Sustainable NYC, a gift and coffee shop, workers continued selling goods by candlelight and cash only, but no coffee was served.

On the Upper West Side at Maxiga, there was no damage just some precious days lost in business. Despite the setback, store manager, Claire Flores, says that the outer boroughs really took the hit for Manhattan regarding the aftermath of damage to home and business, but no internet or credit card machines made business at Maxiga difficult. "It just made everything archaic," said Flores, who said the store went back to using call waiting and cash only.

Flores said the storm won't keep people from shopping since they had a good crowd shopping during this week's nor'easter snow storm, but folks may be more inclined to stay in with future bad weather. "People will usually say, let's go out and shop, but now they may want to go home instead and huddle up," said Flores. "It seems like they're more jittery now."

From consumer anxieties to patrons and businesses in recovery mode post Sandy, it will take time for business to get back to normal. In the affected areas, retailers have already suffered some financial loss due to closing shop for days. In New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, brick-and-mortar shopping was down by 7 percent during the storm week, according to the NPD Group, while online shopping in the Northeast fell by four percent due to the power outages.

The storm ate up nearly $4 billion in retail sales for the affected areas, according to data figures reported by MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse. The region usually accounts for about 24 percent of retail sales nationwide and generates $18.7 billion in sales for the week ended Saturday. However, revenue following Sandy came in at about $15 billion, according to the report, which excluded auto sales.

With the slump in sales prior to the beginning of a busy shopping season, it's too soon to tell whether Sandy will have a significant impact on overall sales this holiday seling period. Jimenez-Cajas at the MOMA store doesn't think Sandy will have a huge impact on holiday sales through the New York Metropolitan area and New Jersey. Instead, she thinks the aftermath of the storm can only help business. "I think it's going to be a positive, because people want to get out and stop thinking about the whole situation," she told Gifts & Decorative Accessories. "They want to get it off their mind and instead get their mind into the holiday season."

In Brooklyn, most neighborhoods still had power following the storm. At Lion in the Sun, in the Park Slope neighborhood, business seems to be back to normal thanks to the holidays. "We luckily got through it okay," said Ella, an invitation consultant and store associate. "People are getting their cards and events going into the holiday season."

Mxyplyzyk's Bryan said there's one thing consumers can do to help retailers in the affected areas rebound from Sandy: "Go in the shops and open your wallet."

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