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Power Outages Hobble Florida Dealers

South Florida retailers reported no injuries and little structural damage from Hurricane Wilma, which bisected the peninsula last month.

But widespread power outages on the East Coast continued to keep stores closed and customers away. Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest power supplier, said service wouldn’t be fully restored until mid-November. But despite the loss of security systems, a strong police presence limited looting to a few isolated incidents, retailers reported.

Among CE chains affected by Wilma, Best Buy said power outages kept nine locations closed the week of the storm, including stores in Fort Myers and Fort Lauderdale, and its distribution and service centers in Miami. The company is providing accommodations for displaced employees in Coral Gables and Hialeah, a spokeswoman said.

Circuit City said 10 of its regional locations were initially closed due to power outages, and stores were reopening with the restoration of service. No employees were injured, a spokeswoman told TWICE.

Wal-Mart had seven locations closed a week after the storm, down from a high of 71, the retailer reported. Despite the closures, Wal-Mart delivered some 24 truckloads of water and ice to impacted areas within days of the storm.

Thirteen of Tweeter Home Entertainment Group’s 24 Sound Advice stores were initially shut due to power outages, along with its corporate office and distribution and in-home installation centers. Damage was negligible, and regional managers relocated displaced employees and provided work in unaffected stores, a spokeswoman said.

Verizon Wireless had reopened 23 of its 42 South Florida retail stores within the first week, where it provided free calls, battery charges and technical support. The company also deployed dozens of portable generators to cell sites with no power.

BrandsMart USA, here, which operates five megastores in southeast Florida, was open for business one day after Wilma struck, thanks to power generators and reinforced structures designed to withstand direct hits from Category 3 storms. The problem, said president/CEO Michael Perlman, was a lack of gasoline, electricity and, at least for the first two days, running water within his trading area.

Similarly, Chris Riching, sales VP at Bill Smith, an eight-store premium CE and majap chain based in Fort Myers, expects to “make up lost business and then some” due to “the post-Charlie bounce.” The effect describes consumer behavior following last year’s more devastating Hurricane Charlie, when discretionary purchases grew significantly.