Parts of Oklahoma City were especially hard hit, said Bob Benham, owner of Balliet's luxury store, which was able to stay open.
"There is so much damage, streets blocked, power lines down, trees down," he said. "This is the worst devastation I have seen in the 17 years that I've been here. The city looks like bombs were dropped."
States of emergency were declared in Missouri, Kansas and Oklahoma, and President Bush ordered federal emergency aid to Oklahoma. Iowa, Illinois and Nebraska also were affected.
"We've had to take it on the chin in a couple of markets" as the holiday shopping season heads into its final days, said Scott Baskin, president of Mark Shale, a men's and women's specialty store with eight locations in the Chicago area, Dallas, Atlanta, Kansas City and St. Louis.
In Chicago and its suburbs, which were hit by rain, not ice, "The threat was more damaging than the weather," Baskin said. Forecasters had warned of such treacherous conditions that it sounded like "don't go out or you'll die. No one died but the retailers....I hope people have postponed and not completely put off their shopping."
Utica Square Shopping Center in Tulsa, Okla., was open Wednesday after closing the previous day.
"It couldn't have come at a worse time for our tenants," said Steve Mackey, vice president of Helmerich & Payne, which owns the center.
Three Wal-Mart stores in Oklahoma remained closed Wednesday, said Jami LaMontagne, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. "Our thoughts are with the people directly affected by this disaster. We have sent truckloads of relief supplies and merchandise to the Oklahoma City area."
In western Missouri, Joplin's Northpark Mall became a destination for people looking for something to do as they waited for power to be restored. The 990,000-square-foot mall features Sears, J.C. Penney, Macy's, Steve & Barry's and TJ Maxx.
"Christmas is all about planned purchases....We'll bounce back and we expect the momentum to carry us into the rest of the season," marketing manager Lori Jones said.
East Hills Mall in St. Joseph, Mo., was forced to close Tuesday afternoon with the exception of Sears. Operations manager Jayne Simerly said the mall reopened Wednesday and crowds had started to return.
"Before this we were struggling with warm weather, so now we are moving the boots, gloves and hats we wanted to sell before the holiday,'' she said.