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Storm's timing delivers hard blow to LI retailers

For local retailers, the storm that brought up to 26 inches of snow couldn't have come at a worse time.

The weekend before Christmas - one of the busiest periods of the holiday shopping season - fell victim to "the perfect retail storm," said Britt Beemer, founder and chairman of America's Research Group in Florida. He estimated that sales fell by as much as 60 percent on Saturday night and Sunday in locations where the storm hit hard - cutting holiday season retail sales on the East Coast by as much as 5 percent.

"It's just the classic illustration of the worst possible storm in the worst possible retail year," Beemer said.

Area economists said the heavy snowfall on Long Island means retailers here may take among the biggest losses.

"I don't think everything is lost, but certainly, the timing of this storm was bad for retailers," said Long Island Association chief economist Pearl Kamer. "And the fact that Long Island was hit so hard and we don't have public transit like New York City makes it worse."

For the Tanger Outlet in Riverhead, Sunday brought no business at all, as general manager Janine Nebons chose to close the mall to protect her employees and customers. Said Nebons: "As much as you want to be open and be ready to go, you also have to be realistic."

At Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City, all the shops and kiosks appeared to be open by early afternoon. Macy's opened at 8 a.m., an hour late, according to Pauline Patterson, an employee who lives in Uniondale.

Even the Magical Moment with Santa display felt the effects of the storm. Throughout the afternoon, the line waiting to see Santa never exceeded three or four families.

It wasn't just the consumers who stayed away.

In West Islip, Julie Marchesella woke up several times Saturday night to check the storm's progress, hoping she'd be able to open her Merrick clothing store, Queen of Hearts, Sunday.

But when she saw that her car was encased in snow up to its windows, she changed her mind.

"A little snow wouldn't keep us away from our stores," said Marchesella, the vice president of the Nassau Council of Chambers of Commerce, "but this one is kind of devastating."

Now, she's among the local store owners hoping for brisk sales in coming days.

"They've got to stay open later, they've got to keep running sales and the ads - and then pray," said Joel R. Evans, a professor at Hofstra University's Zarb School of Business, who suggested that retailers try lunchhour doorbusters or other deals.

There are, of course, the rare stores that benefit from blizzards - such as Trio Hardware in Plainview. Business boomed there Saturday, as customers sought shovels and rock salt. While Sunday was quieter, owners Francesca and Bruce Carlow kept the store open, one of the few in the Morton Village Plaza strip mall.

"We have never, never not opened the store for weather," Francesca Carlow said. With Mark Harrington

and Josh Seidman

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