Retail roared into high gear over the four-day holiday weekend with a record $59.1 billion spent at U.S. stores and websites, according to an industry trade group.
An estimated 139.4 million shoppers spent 12.8 percent more than the same period last year, according to the National Retail Federation. Online retail sales on Black Friday also topped $1 billion for the first time.
And while the numbers aren't even in yet for Cyber Monday, so dubbed because of traditionally high online sales on the first Monday after Thanksgiving, spending Monday is expected top $1 billion.
Long Island's retail sales numbers generally outpace the nation's average, said Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst for the NPD Group of Port Washington, and early indicators suggest they have again.
Despite the record-breaking numbers nationwide, analysts warned that Sandy's lingering effects could put a damper on the season for Long Island's local merchants. While pent-up demand and deals on clothing, electronics and toys made for three strong sales days across the Island, Cohen said much of the business went to large merchants, online retailers and chain stores, leaving local businesses "playing catch-up."
After three weeks of depressed sales attributed to power outages and gas shortages, many are saddled with a backlog of inventory competing for precious space with new items, he said.
"Now these merchants are forced to sell their products at half-price," Cohen said. "It takes their profits right out the window."
In hard-hit Long Beach, Warren Vegh, executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, said merchants faced an even more basic problem: up to a third of that city's stores are still closed, he said.
In Babylon Village, Wally Levins, chamber vice president and owner of Coastal Island Treasures, a shop specializing in nautical gifts and decor, said he'd had a strong Saturday but that customer traffic over the past three days was off by a third.
One customer placed a big order on Christmas ornaments because all of her old ones, stored in a crawl space, were destroyed by flooding. On the other hand, Levins said, customers who used to commission pictures of their boats are unlikely to do so now that many of those boats have been destroyed.
Many local merchants who might have been depending on a bump from early Christmas sales could be hurt, he said.
"Some of these single shops were banking on early displays," Levins said. "They brought in a lot of inventory to support these previews and it didn't go away."
But Levins and other local merchants such as Bob Bennett, owner of Amity Harbor Sports in Amityville, never expected huge numbers from Black Friday, Cyber Monday or even Small Business Saturday.
Instead, they hope for a gradual uptick. "As Christmas gets closer, business will pick up," Bennett predicted.
In Huntington, Larry Kushnick, chairman-elect of the Chamber of Commerce, said few retailers there expected to recoup losses from Sandy and many were adjusting expectations as a result. "There might be no profit this year, but the lights stay on. If you do that, that's a win," he said.
Which isn't to say that Long Island's merchants will let 2012 pass without a fight.
On Saturday, Huntington welcomed 10,000 people for its holiday parade, moving the start time from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. to give visitors more time to shop. Babylon Village is pressing ahead with customary holiday festivities -- and free parking -- that merchants hope will bring shoppers into the village and persuade them to stay.
And in Long Beach, Vegh said, residents are returning, and they're spending their money locally. "They're going back to their favorite restaurants, the retail stores," he said. "This is a tight community."
With Keiko Morris and wire services
BY THE NUMBERS
139.4 million shoppers visited U.S. stores and websites from Thanksgiving through Sunday
$423 spent this weekend by the average holiday shopper
$1 billion-plus expected to be spent by consumers for this year's Cyber Monday