Fla. Retail Endures Frances

Having been pounded by hurricane Frances, Florida retailers, many closed since Thursday afternoon, began opening where possible on Monday.

PLANTATION, Fla. — Retail stores in Florida, after losing more than three shopping days due to hurricane Frances during the traditionally important Labor Day sales weekend, began to slowly reopen on Monday even as merchants and insurers began to assess total losses.

While the dollar count for physical damage and missed sales revenue won’t be known for days, the total has been estimated to be as much as $20 billion, according to state officials. Coupled with hurricane Charley, which pounded the region three weeks ago, depressing August retail sales, the total figure could be as high as $40 billion.

Nationwide spending in 2003 for the back-to-school season, which includes Labor Day weekend, was $14.8 billion, according to the National Retail Federation.

Some areas had just finished sorting through the destruction caused by hurricane Charley when Frances began. Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte seemed to take the brunt of Charley’s wrath.

Frances began moving toward the east coast of Florida on Thursday. By Friday, evacuation orders for 2.5 million people were issued — the largest in the state’s history. As it spread across the state, the hurricane downed power lines, flooded streets and brought down trees. There were reports of several deaths in the state due to Frances.

While Frances’ fierce winds and hurricane conditions affected most of the state, the storm hit the central part of the eastern coast, near Melbourne hardest.

With hurricane warnings issued for the entire east coast of Florida, 15 of Simon Property Group’s 27 Florida malls had closed by Friday afternoon, said Les Morris, corporate spokesman.

Hurricane warnings were lifted in Miami-Dade county by 5 a.m. Sunday morning and several of the malls began to open, including Simon’s Dadeland Mall in Miami, Morris said. The company’s Broward County malls and some of the Palm Beach County malls, including Town Center in Boca Raton, reopened Monday.

Retailers at Bal Harbour Shoppes, directly across the street from the Atlantic Ocean north of Miami Beach, reopened on a voluntary basis on Sunday at noon. Monday, the mall, including anchors Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue, was open for holiday hours of noon to 6.
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