If all goes as planned, J&R Music World will reopen its stores today for the first time since Sept. 10.
But plans have been tentative at best for this lower Manhattan merchant, whose block-long row of CE, PC, music and small appliance shops lies within a city block of the former World Trade Center complex.
Because of their proximity, the collapse of the Twin Towers shattered storefront windows and left floors, walls, shelves, product displays and inventory coated in a thick layer of dust. Emergency response crews broke into the computer store, which was converted into a makeshift triage center and later a rest area for rescue workers. And for days following the attack, the entire area was cordoned off as a "no movement zone," forcing management to set up shop at the company's distribution center in Queens, N.Y.
While no employees were injured, and its Queens-based catalog, phone and online sales operation continued unabated, the toll on J&R's $200 million retail business — which represents 60 percent of total revenues — is clearly profound. The tightly held, privately run retailer wouldn't put a dollar value on its losses, but stressed that its stores have been shut for six weeks and that most if not all of their dust-covered stock is a loss.
"We had to get rid of everything, even the stuff in boxes," one store worker said. "With this kind of merchandise, we can't take a chance that a product is damaged or that even one customer might be affected by the dust."
To help boost its direct sale business while the store cleanups commenced, J&R "beefed up mailings and put out more circulars," said marketing director Phil Tudanger, who was busy developing newspaper ads to herald the grand reopening.
But even if all goes as planned, and J&R reopens its doors to the public today, it will still be a long time, if ever, before business returns to normal for this New York area fixture. Although accessible now by foot and subway, the stores look out onto a vast no-entry zone demarcated by checkpoints and police barricades, beyond which lies a nightmarish terrain of emergency vehicles, National Guard troops and the smoking remains of the towers. The clean up, New York Mayor Rudolph Guiliani has said, could take a year.
Beyond that, J&R must face the specter of radically reduced foot traffic now that tens of thousands of jobs have been relocated out of the area, and one of the world's greatest tourist attractions is gone.
All the company can do is hope for the best, employees said, and take solace in the outpouring of support from vendors like Sony, Panasonic and Samsung, who have visited the stores and were stunned by the surrounding devastation.
"We had a tremendous amount of help from the manufacturers," Tudanger noted. "There was not one who didn't offer to send in trainers and help us re-merchandise quicker and get the stuff out there. Bose even asked if we needed anyone over the weekend to help with products other than their own."
So what's next for J&R? Given all the uncertainties, the company is taking things one day at a time as it tries to return to routine. "We're just planning our CES flights to Vegas," Tudanger said.