Cleaned out! New Yorkers empty stores of everything from milk to flashlights as they batten down the hatches ahead of Irene
With just hours before Hurrican Irene was due to roar into New York, the city’s residents were frantically clearing shelves and stocking up on essentials.
Consumers flooded into hardware stores, grocers and big-box retailers to pick up generators, bottled water and flashlights ahead of Hurricane Irene’s arrival.
Flashlights and batteries were like gold dust in New York, where some stores were also cleaned out of milk and groceries.
The lonely last cartons: A shopper finds some milk in the almost empty Target store in Queens, New York, on Friday
At Ace Hardware in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, close to where the hurricane is expected to land, business more than tripled.
Unlike residents farther south who might be more practised with weathering hurricanes, the crowds in New York and northern New Jersey at times didn’t seem to know what to do.
Instead of buying generators and gasoline, as many coastal homeowners routinely do, apartment dwellers were thinking less about protecting their property, more about protecting themselves.
The hunt was on water, liquor for hurricane parties and flashlights.
Buy what you can grab: Batteries and flashlights were nowhere to be found at the Tent and Trails outdoor supplies store in New York on Friday afternoon
Sign of distress: Scribbled sign indicating what was sold out at a Radio Shack store in New York on Friday
The ShopRite in West Orange, N.J., was chaotic on Friday afternoon, with cars honking as people waited to get into the parking lot.
An Ace Hardware store in Nags Head, N.C., was all sold out of portable generators by Thursday.
John Robbins, an employee at the Nags Head store said: ‘With everyone saying this is going to be a bad one, no one is leaving anything to chance.’
Where’s the supplies? A woman walks past empty rows in Waldbaum’s grocery store in Queens, New York
Traffic jam: New Yorkers line up to pay for items at a Fairway Supermarket as millions brace for the wrath of Hurricane Irene
Some retailers are getting a boost in business, but extreme weather like hurricanes is damaging to the retail sector as a whole.
And this one is coming in the thick of the critical back-to-school shopping weekend, a time when some merchants make up to 25 percent of their annual revenue.
In fact, weather research firm Planalytics estimates that Irene will stop 80 million shoppers from hitting the malls this weekend.
Helpful, kind of: A helpful sign outside the Tent and Trails store in New York but most shoppers left with many boxes unchecked
Like gold dust: Milk was one of the top items on everyone’s list
At the same time, demand for hurricane-related supplies is giving some retailers an unexpected boost that will likely continue as people deal with the clean-up in Irene’s aftermath.
In a note to clients on Thursday, Citigroup analysts Deborah Weinswig and Tina Hwang said they expect department stores will suffer with shoppers locked up inside their homes, while discount stores, supermarkets and home-improvement stores will get a rush of customers eager to stock up on canned foods, batteries and other survival gear.
To meet the increased demand, many big retailers like Home Depot, Lowes and Wal-Mart have assembled disaster teams.
A drought in the stores: The budget brands of water disappeared in no time in downtown Manhattan on Friday, leaving only the moore expensive brands
Run down: Batteries were one of the most sought after items and disappeared quickly from the shelves of a Home Depot store in Freeport on Long Island
Sherif Mityas, a partner at AT Kearney, a retail consulting firm said: ‘Preparing for a hurricane is all about the supply chain.
‘Making sure you got the right products at the right time that consumers are looking for. They’re wired into how the storm is affecting the communities around the stores.’
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, has its own staff meteorologist, who can evaluate the weather data and analyse how it will impact its stores and workers.
The discounter also can forecast what shoppers are looking for before a hurricane strikes – and in its aftermath – by using predictive modelling that studies past spending behaviour.
Taking no chances: Customers at a hardware store in Far Rockaway, New York, on Friday
How quickly they went: Friday started out well-stocked in some stores, but it didn’t last long
Mark Cooper, senior director of Wal-Mart’s emergency management team, said the retailer is working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency to ensure that stores have all the items on its list for emergency preparedness kits.
The list, which is on website includes batteries and cleaning supplies.
In the Northeast, Cooper said Wal-Mart also plans to push more supplies like bug spray and clean up products in anticipation of flooding.
‘Katrina is the benchmark for hurricanes,’ said Cooper, who estimates that about 600 of the more than 4,000 Wal-Mart stores could be impacted by the storm.
Be prepared: Coastal residents have packed into stores like Home Depot to load up on items like emergency generators, batteries and flashlights
‘We’ll see how this one goes. Regardless of size, we will be prepared.’
At Home Depot’s 24-hour command center, 100 associates that include human resource associates and logistics executives, are carefully monitoring TVs and coordinating response efforts.
Home Depot’s emergency preparedness team started working this past weekend with its stores in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, which have already been hit by Irene.
By Friday morning, Home Depot had 500 trucks supplying its East Coast stores with products that are in demand, like generators.
‘Product is selling just as fast as it arrives,’ said Steve Holmes, senior manager of corporate communications for Home Depot, the nation’s largest home improvement retailer.
Out of stock: Items like bottled water are going fast as shoppers scramble to pick up supplies before Hurricane Irene makes landfall
By Friday, Lowe’s sent out 500 trucks so that stores could quickly be restocked with hurricane-related items, including cleaning chemicals, mops, brooms, sump pumps, wet/dry vacuums.
‘This is a huge storm, especially in the Northeast when they’re not used to hurricanes,’ said Katherine Cody, a spokeswoman at Lowe’s, the nation’s second largest home-improvement retailer.
ITEMS YOU NEED FOR AN EMERGENCY SUPPLY KIT
- Water, a gallon per person per day for at least three days, for drinking and sanitation
- Food, at least a three-day supply of non-perishable food
- Battery-powered or hand crank radio and a NOAA Weather Radio with tone alert and extra batteries for both
- Flashlight and extra batteries
- First aid kit
- Whistle to signal for help
- Dust mask, to help filter contaminated air and plastic sheeting and duct tape to shelter-in-place
- Moist towelettes, garbage bags and plastic ties for personal sanitation
- Wrench or pliers to turn off utilities
- Can opener for food (if kit contains canned food)
- Local maps
- Cell phone with chargers, inverter or solar charger
For all their preparation, a hurricane can still take retailers by surprise, particularly at stores in areas that are being evacuated.
At the Ace Hardware in Nags Head, the store sold out of generators and sandbags.
And one grocer in Elizabeth City, N.C. was so busy that workers didn’t even have time to give specifics.
A worker who answered the phone on Thursday at Weeksville Grocery in Elizabeth City said: ‘I’ve got a line of people out the door. I don’t have time to talk. Have a good day.’
So many shoppers were snapping up goods at the ShopRite in West Orange, N.J. on Friday afternoon that Amelia Panico had to settle for buying a few gallon-size jugs of water because the store sold out of the smaller bottles she wanted.
‘It’s now or never,’ Panico said after braving lines that snaked through the store.
At the Ace Hardware in Elizabeth City, sales of electric lanterns, charcoal, batteries and pure oil – which is used for old-fashioned kerosene lamps that are popular in low-income areas – were strong this week that Dorran Hulse, the store’s manager, had to order an additional shipment of items.
Mr Hulse said: ‘As soon as we did it, people came in and bought items. We were telling them what time the truck was going to be in and people were here waiting for it.’
In Kitty Hawk, there were unusually long lines at the Home Depot, which displayed several pallets of 5,000-watt portable generators for $599 – enough to keep the power going in a house.
Jim Rogers, 52, of Kitty Hawk, was loading plywood into the back of his pickup truck outside of Home Depot.
Inside his truck, he had a tarp and rope to use to cover and tie down his patio furniture.
‘Everyone is just trying to protect their homes,’said Mr Rogers, who plans to evacuate after securing his house.