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Will snow stop Long Island holiday shoppers?

Shoppers walk around Tanger Outlets at the Arches.

Shoppers walk around Tanger Outlets at the Arches. (December 12, 2009) Photo Credit: John Dunn

A blizzard warning issued for Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning could crimp plans of both merchants and holiday shoppers alike, but many retailers and malls are taking a wait-and-see approach and said they still expect consumers to hit the stores this weekend.

"The Saturday before Christmas, being the busiest shopping day of the year, we know that shoppers are going to be coming out to shop," said Nancy Gilbert, director of marketing and business development for the Walt Whitman Mall in Huntington Station. "We've had snow on weekends in other holiday seasons in prior years and that hasn't kept shoppers away."

Long Island could see snowfall of 10 to 14 inches if the storm stays on track, the National Weather Service warning said.

"If it's more than an inch or two, it's going to have a big effect on Sunday," said Joel R. Evans, a business professor at Hofstra University's Zarb School of Business. "But given the fact that Christmas isn't until the end of the week, the question is whether they [retailers] are going to recoup Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday."

Evans predicted consumers would make a "mad dash" Friday and this morning to beat the storm. Dean Nichol, 45, of East Northport, was one of them Friday, shopping at the Walt Whitman Mall.

"I don't want to contend with the nasty roads," said Nichol, who bought Lancôme products and something from Victoria's Secret for his wife, JoEllen. "I am just playing it safe."

While a snowstorm could give cautious consumers yet another reason not to shop amid a bad recession, the timing could boost online sales, said Matthew Katz, who heads the retail practice of AlixPartners, a global business advisory firm.

"The Web has been performing well, and we anticipate they will get a bit of added juice if consumers don't want to venture outside," he said.

Many retailers are still offering discounted and expedited shipping through the weekend, said Scott Krugman, a spokesman for the National Retail Federation, a trade association.

Walmart.com, for example, has 97-cent shipping on electronics until Sunday. Many sites have lowered their free-shipping threshold amounts.

Retailers remained calm. Target, which is expecting the demand for online shopping to be consistent with prior years, set in motion plans to increase its stocks of shovels, scrapers and ice melt at stores that could be affected, said Anne Zeltinger, a Target spokeswoman. Other than that, the company would continue to monitor the weather conditions, she said.

For local merchants, the potential winter storm could have an upside.

"This could be a blessing in disguise," said Julie Marchesella, vice president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce and the owner of Queen of Hearts, a Merrick boutique selling plus-size formal wear, gifts and accessories. "It will keep all of our people at home in their downtowns and they can be safe, shop locally and keep downtown stores vibrant and alive."

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