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UPDATE: Retailers trying to assess damage from Hurricane Sandy

NEW YORK — Two days after a devastating Hurricane Sandy came ashore in New Jersey and wreaked havoc across greater New York, furniture retailers in the area were reporting store closing disruptions, but no serious damage.

However, those light damage reports could be because some retailers were not yet allowed to return to the hardest hit areas, where seawater broke past barriers and homes and businesses were pummeled.

"We've not been able to get back to the island to check on our store," said Bob Huber, co-president of Oskar Huber Furniture & Design, referring to his store in Ship Bottom, N.J., on Long Beach Island north of Atlantic City.

"We know we have water in the store," he said. The showroom has cameras, and even though the store was evacuated and boarded up Sunday, Huber could see the water seeping in before the cameras cut off along with the electricity. If the water rose about six inches from where it was in the last view, furniture would start getting damaged, he said.

Huber said his Philadelphia-area store came through fine and the power was back on Tuesday. But access to Long Beach was still blocked at midday Tuesday. Huber was watching various news conference broadcasts and there had been hints that he may be able to get into Ship Bottom today.

The best news is no one was injured, he said. Despite its location in such a hard-hit area, the store was boarded up and sandbagged and "everyone was out of there in plenty of time," he said.

Manchester, Conn.-based Bob's Discount Furniture managed to open about six of its 43 locations Monday but ended up closing them early, said CEO Ted English.

"So virtually no business (Monday)," he said. For Tuesday, "I'd say about 75% of our chain will open - half on time and the other quarter some time later this afternoon."

About four Bob's store in New Jersey and another four in the New York City area are without power and will remain closed today, he said. In addition, Bob's has a few stores on Long Island, for which English was still waiting for an assessment this morning.

He hadn't received any reports of damage yet at the stores or distribution centers. He had been concerned about the Taftville, Conn., distribution facility, which is near a river and susceptible to flood damage, but it was spared.

"At this stage of the game we're trying to reach out to all of our associates and make sure they're OK," English said. "It looks like a lot are without power at the moment, but I haven't heard of anyone being in harm's way."

The high-end Apropos Furniture in the New York Design Center on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan was closed without power for a second day Tuesday, said owner Jordan Greenberg, but he wasn't expecting to find any damage there, either.

That's not to say the situation surrounding him hasn't been devastating and scary. Greenberg said he has an aunt living in New York's Rockaway Beach who had to move to the third floor of her house to avoid flooding and "was fearing for her life (Monday) night.

"Houses around her were burning. It was real end-of-the-world type stuff."

All 14 of Crest Furniture's Value City Furniture and Ashley Furniture HomeStores in New Jersey and Pennsylvania were affected by the storm, said CEO Simon Kaplan, noting that by this morning, they all were still without power and he wasn't expecting that to change anytime soon.

He wasn't sure yet if any stores were damaged and was most concerned about his Northfield, N.J., HomeStore, 10 miles west of Atlantic City, which his team has not been able to reach.

"We really got hit hard. I've never seen it like this," Kaplan said Tuesday. "I took a ride, and nobody has lights in any of the stores."

The key to getting back in business will be getting the lights back on, and Kaplan said he's hearing that the area could be without electricity for a week to 10 days.

"We'll survive, and we'll get started again," he said. "As long as there's no physical damage to any of the showrooms, we'll be OK."

Furniture retailers are not alone in the dark. According to a CNN report, more than 7.5 million electricity customers were without power Tuesday in some 15 states and the District of Columbia. The storm-related death toll was 40 people or more depending on the report.

With the widespread news coverage leading up to the storm, Thomasville Home Furnishings of New Jersey lost sales not only Monday and Tuesday, but Saturday and Sunday too, even though it was open over the weekend, said Eddie Massood, president of the Fairfield, N.J.-based retailer.

"Traffic was basically nonexistent. Everyone was getting ready for Sandy's arrival, which is understandable," said Massood.

"So we've had a rough four days of retail," he said, but added that was "not nearly as difficult as the people who lost homes or have been displaced." Massood said his stores weren't damaged by the storm.

Likewise, Patrick Cory of furniture delivery specialist Cory Home Delivery said his area warehouses came through unscathed, including the new 200,000-square-foot distribution center in North Bergen, N.J. despite area flooding. The company's offices in Secaucus, N.J., also pulled through.

Deliveries were halted and would likely begin slowly today, he said, but added that he knows some in the area will be suffering for quite awhile.

"Anybody on the Jersey Shore - Point Pleasant, Seaside, Atlantic City - they got hit hard," Cory said. "Water broke over barriers, businesses are destroyed. They took the brunt of the storm. The recovery for that area is going to take a long time."

Michael Grossman, owner of Northfield, N.J.-based Kensington Furniture & Mattress, said his store had limited exposure to the storm since it is about eight miles west of Atlantic City.

However, since most roads in the area were closed, it was not able to make deliveries for a day or two leading up to the storm. The store also wasn't expecting to make any until the end of the week, Grossman said, noting that his customers also canceled deliveries in anticipation of the storm.

"People aren't in their homes and there have been sporadic power outages," he said, adding. "Outreach is impossible and people are still reeling from what's going on."

He said his store has remained open and remains connected with Internet, cable and electricity.

The Grove Furniture, in nearby Egg Harbor Township, N.J., had a message on its phone line Tuesday saying it is closed due to Hurricane Sandy and hopes to open in a few days.

Bograd's Fine Furniture of Riverdale, N.J., also was closed and without power Tuesday, said co-owner Joe Bograd, though he wasn't expecting to find any physical damage. Bograd's is set to close for good this Saturday, Nov. 3.

"It looks like our last week of selling is going to be a quiet one," he said.

While Sandy's impact is widespread, businesses further south from the New York/New Jersey strike zone appeared to get away relatively unscathed. Manufacturer Gat Creek of Berkeley Springs, W.Va., for instance, experienced the storm to a much lesser degree.

Company President Gat Caperton said that his area, which is 90 miles due west of Washington and about 250 miles southwest of New York, had some modest flooding and some tree damage.

"We felt very fortunate," he said. "We got plenty of wind and rain and bad weather, but nothing too, too severe.

He said on Tuesday that about 15% of his 115 employees could not get to work on time due to fallen trees and power outages. But he expected most of them to report by noon.

In greater Boston, Circle Furniture's Peggy Burns told Furniture/Today, "We are fine and unscathed," although her sister's car didn't fare as well as it was totaled by a fallen tree.

"No damage to any stores but just lots of trees down," she said. "Massachusetts did well by the storm. Bummer for business because October was a pretty good month and (we) wanted to finish with a bang. I do feel badly for my furniture friends who didn't do as well."

David Callen, vice president of finance and treasurer for Danbury, Conn.-based Ethan Allen, said that a few of its stores in the Northeast closed early on Monday and had only minor damage to a couple of awnings. Those stores reopened on Tuesday.

Power was also down at the company's headquarters on Tuesday. However, it relied on backup generators to run critical operational systems and Callen said the company was expecting things to be back to normal at all locations on Wednesday.

 

Havertys Chairman and CEO Clarence Smith said all the retailer's stores in northern Virginia, Norfolk, Va., and Baltimore would be open Tuesday.

"We had no real damage," he said. "We were very lucky, but the rest of the region north of us looks like they are in for a tough time ahead."

Editor-in-Chief Ray Allegrezza and Associate Editor Thomas Russell contributed to this story.

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