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Hurricane Irene brings a storm of business to some retailers on the East Coast

Though SNEWS couldn't reach retailers affected by power outages and floods from Hurricane Irene, the East Coast retailers we did talk to tell us the storm was good for business and damage was minimal.

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While numerous businesses along the East Coast are likely struggling to reopen (or even answer the phone) due to floods and power outages caused by Hurricane Irene, many outdoor and fintess retailers reached by SNEWS were spared by the storm and even saw a boost in business.

Hurricanes good for business…sometimes

Though the Associated Press reported weather research firm Planalytics estimates that Irene stopped 80 million shoppers from hitting the malls the weekend of the storm, many outdoor retailers saw a surge in business from people preparing for the storm.

At Gander Mountain in Salisbury, Md., store supervisor Stephanie Hull said she saw an increase in shopper traffic Aug. 23, with many buying generators and batteries.The store was open for a while on Saturday, as the storm moved in, but it was a slow day. Hull said the slow business Saturday was offset by Friday’s uptick.

It was the same story for many other outdoor retailers in the storm’s path.

“We saw people coming in and picking up rain jackets and fleeces,” said Steven Atocha, one of the owners of Middlebury Mountaineer in Middlebury, Vt. Although, he said he couldn’t tell if the boost in business was due to the hurricane or becuase Middlebury College students were moving in over the weekend.

Though Middlebury was largely unaffected, the towns around it, such as Atocha’s town of Lincoln, Vt., which is about 20 miles away from Middlebury, were. “One of the stores just got picked up off its foundation and moved,” Atocha said. Half of his town is without power and many buildings were damaged.

People went to Hudson Trail Outfitters in Annapolis, Md., to purchase lanterns and stoves, which manager Wayne Harris said offset the slower business during the storm. “We couldn’t have enough lanterns and stoves,” Harris said.

Heather Lipman, manager at Tents and Trails in New York City, said the city forced the store to close a half-day on Saturday and all of Sunday. “Losing a Sunday is a big deal,” Lipman said.

But one of her sales associates, Joshua Friedman, said the surge in business the store saw on Friday was more than enough to make up for it. “People waited until the last minute,” Friedman said, noting that crank flashlights and radios, batteries, multitools, windproof matches and glowsticks were popular items. “Friday was a phenomenal day.” Friedman was shocked at how many people didn’t have the essentials like flashlights and batteries – items he said he thinks every home should have after 9/11.

At Princeton Sports, Inc., in Baltimore, Md., people came in before the storm looking for flashlights. Saturday was a little slow but on Sunday the store did really well, said sales associate Josh Leitzel.

For other retailers, business was not affected very much at all.

Steve Cole of Hanover Outdoors in Hanover, N.H., said he chose to close the small store on the Appalachian Trail because “we felt that it would not be economical to stay open as there was nobody up here,” Cole said, but even so, “We didn’t lose a lot of business.” 

Dodging the damage

Though SNEWS couldn’t reach some retailers in the hardest hit areas of Hurricane Irene’s resulting floodwaters and wind damage — the phone rang without answer at some specialty shops in North Carolina, New Jersey and Vermont — those we did reach said damage, if any, was minimal.

“One letter ripped off the building, which is minor and replaceable,” Hull at Gander Mountain said.

Onion River Sports in Montpelier, Vt., learned its lesson from the Memorial Day 2011 flooding it suffered through and kept its inventory dry during this storm.

“In Montpelier the river was raging pretty hard but it didn’t get near as high as it did on Memorial Day weekend when we had a big flood,” said sales associate Brett Leeper. “We were just really prepared this time. Last time it snuck up on us.” Leeper said the store had its backup generator good to go and most of its inventory removed from the basement, which flooded on Memorial Day

Business as usual

For Fitness Lifestyles, a fitness retailer in Asbury Park, N.J., Irene didn’t really mess with business all that much due to its quick-moving nature, said sales representative Eric Morley.

“Friday, with all the warnings, people started to leave town because we’re right by the ocean,” Morley said. The storm raged up the coast on Saturday and by 1 p.m. that day, Morley said the staff had already boarded up the store to make sure it was safe. Sunday, after the town’s curfew was lifted, the store was up and running once more.

“We were fortunate our area didn’t have any physical damage,” Morley said. The weekends don’t generally see more business than the weekdays for Fitness Lifestyles, Morely said, so the business was largely unaffected.

For the most part, retailers were grateful to have gotten through the storm without so much as a scratch on a window and Cole of Hanover Outdoors is one of them. 

“Here in the upper valley there was a lot of damage to bridges. We had bridges in the upper valley here that disappeared,” Cole said. “I think we all feel really grateful to get through it as well as we did.”

Read about how Hurricane Irene affected the ski business in Vermont here.And tell us in the comment section below how the storm affected your outdoor, fitness or wintersports store or company, or share advice on what you did to prepare and minimize damage.

-Ana Trujillo