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Hurricane Rita’s Retail Impact Minimal

Despite the added misery wrought on area residents by Hurricane Rita, the storm’s impact on Gulf Coast retailers was minimal compared to Katrina, whose devastation prompted more stringent precautions.

Among dealers most directly impacted was Conn’s, whose home base of Beaumont, Texas, took much of the brunt of Rita’s wrath. Nevertheless, the company continued to operate throughout the storm with only minimal damage and no injuries, the retailer reported.

The regional brown- and white-goods chain said that 50 of its 55 stores throughout Texas and Louisiana remain operational, and that all of its distribution and service centers, except for its Beaumont facility, are up and running.

Conn’s corporate headquarters building, in Beaumont, was evacuated and sustained minimal damage, and its computer and telecommunications facilities are intact, with an emergency generator powering air conditioning to maintain equipment.

All facilities in the affected areas will be returned to full operation as soon as essential city services in Beaumont are restored, the company said.

According to chairman/CEO Tom Frank, the chain began preparing for the storm last Thursday by switching to its backup computer and telecommunications system in Dallas, and transferring all store operations, merchandising, distribution and other corporate functions to its facilities there. The precautions allowed uninterrupted service to all stores, along with other information technology functions, and precluded any significant disruption in operations, he said.

Credit underwriting has also been transferred to Dallas, and a call center has been brought online in Austin, Texas, for credit collections. Personnel have been temporarily relocated to the Houston, Dallas and the Austin markets to provide operational and support services, and additional capacity will be added in the next several days.

Elsewhere, Best Buy reported that its Beaumont store is also closed, and will reopen “once damaged is assessed in that community,” the company said.

Wal-Mart has reopened 146 of the 155 facilities that were closed by Rita. Those that remain shut include six Supercenters and three Wal-Mart stores. In addition, 12 stores impacted by Hurricane Katrina are still closed.

A spokesperson for Texas Instruments, which has headquarters in Plano, said the storm missed the Dallas area entirely, and company workers had successfully prepared its warehousing facilities in the Houston area for the downgraded winds and rain, when they arrived. —Additional reporting by Greg Scoblete