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Can Christmas shopping sales recover from snowstorm?

Retailers took a hit on Christmas shopping sales because of the snowstorm, though online sales surged. The storm also took a financial toll on towns that had to dig into their snowplowing budget early.

By Ron SchererStaff writer / December 21, 2009

Shoppers leave a Philadelphia Best Buy store during a snow storm on Saturday.

Matt Slocum/AP

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New York

The bill from the blizzard of ’09 is racking up into the billions of dollars.

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Airlines had to cancel flights and now are struggling to find seats for stranded passengers on nearly-full holiday flights. Merchants, such as booksellers Borders, are extending hours to get snow-bound shoppers into their stores. And financially hard-pressed cities are bemoaning the expense of plowing a foot or more of the white stuff off their roads.

“You could not have chosen a worse day for the storm to hit,” says economist Joel Naroff of Naroff Economic Advisors in Holland, Pa.

The Saturday before Christmas – just when the storm was starting to pelt the mid-Atlantic states – is the busiest shopping day of the year. Malls and stores are usually selling their wares at a frantic pace.

“The only saving grace this year is that the Saturday before Christmas is almost a week before Christmas” says Mr. Naroff. “There is at least a chance to recoup a little bit of the losses that occurred.”

Can retail losses be made up?

The unrecoverable losses from the storm came to about $2 billion, according to a preliminary estimate from Planalytics, a business weather forecasting service.

“The industry as a whole will not be able to completely make up for so many lost shopping hours in so many heavily-populated centers,” writes Scott Bernhardt, chief operating officer of the Wayne, Pa. service, in an e-mail.

In Boston, for example, upscale shoe store Thom Brown said sales on Sunday (when the storm hit that city) were a dud. According to a store manager, Isaiah Bond, it only did $90 in sales compared to $1,100 last year the same day. But he has higher hopes for the post-Christmas period when people buy shoes for New Year’s Eve.

Although many stores lost sales, some recouped losses with their online business. That was the case at ‘47 on Newbury Street, Boston, which sells upscale "vintage-inspired sports and college apparel." Assistant manager Lauren Ibey said strong sales on the store’s newly-opened Website helped mitigate the lack of people in the store on Sunday.

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