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Snowstorms Disrupt President's Day Sales

2/24/2003 02:00:00 AM Eastern

Mother Nature added a final insult to a disappointing winter retail season by dumping two feet of snow on major markets from Washington to Boston over Presidents' Day weekend.

The three-day period, which some retailers regard as a last opportunity to work down old inventory to make way for spring shipments, accounted for 13.1 percent of total Northeast retail sales in February 2001, according to research firm ShopperTrak.

This year, some $437 million in general merchandise sales were lost to the storm, the company estimates, with losses mounting each day as it rolled up the coast. Year-over-year sales of general merchandise in the Northeast slipped nearly 6 percent on Saturday, 20 percent on Sunday, and 55 percent on Monday, the company said.

The data suggest that the snowstorm pared year-over-year total U.S. retail sales growth by about three-quarters of percentage point for the month, observed Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi senior retail analyst Michael Niemira, "making it difficult for the industry to recoup those lost February sales."

Jay Lebowitz, principal of Mr. Jay's Appliance and president of Intercounty Appliance, the Long Island, N.Y.-based chapter of the Nationwide buying group's NECO Alliance, concurred.

"Some guys can never make that back," he noted, despite approvals to extend their rebate and zero-percent financing offers to the following weekend. "Our members do a lot of business on Presidents' Day, some as much as a week's worth. So they spend a lot of money on inserts and buy merchandise just for that one day," Lebowitz said.

Publicly held retailers were more reticent about the affect the blizzard would have on their monthly sales tally. "Impact overall is difficult to assess at this point," said a Sears spokesperson. "We did have a number of stores that were closed on Monday. Those stores extended the Presidents' Day event through Tuesday, as a courtesy to customers."

Among national CE chains, neither Best Buy, Circuit City nor Tweeter Home Entertainment Group ran Presidents' Day promotions. "We never do, we just had our regular weekly circular," said a spokesperson for Best Buy. The No.1 CE specialist declined to comment on the storm's sales impact, but noted that 33 of its 546 flagship stores were closed that Monday.

Similarly, "several dozen" Circuit City stores in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast regions remained closed on Monday, the impact of which is "hard to gauge" said a spokesman, given the breadth of the 626-unit chain.

A Tweeter spokeswoman said that 30 of its 176 stores didn't open on Monday, and that the company hadn't yet determined the full impact on February sales. "We don't ever like to blame the weather," she said, "but this time we will."

According to Credit Suisse First Boston analyst Gary Balter, Staples, with 38 percent of its store base in the Northeast, and The Home Depot, with 22 percent of its stores in affected markets, stood the most to lose last week.

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