FLORIDA FOOD RETAILERS RECOVERING FROM HURRICANE CHARLEY

As Floridians began assessing the damage wrought by Hurricane Charley last week, food retailers in the state offered a hand -- and licked some wounds themselves.Charley hit land near the gulf coast town of Port Charlotte around 3:45 p.m. on Aug. 13 as a Category 4 storm with 145 mile-per-hour winds and a surge of water 20 feet high. The storm continued northeast across the state toward Orlando and

As Floridians began assessing the damage wrought by Hurricane Charley last week, food retailers in the state offered a hand -- and licked some wounds themselves.

Charley hit land near the gulf coast town of Port Charlotte around 3:45 p.m. on Aug. 13 as a Category 4 storm with 145 mile-per-hour winds and a surge of water 20 feet high. The storm continued northeast across the state toward Orlando and Daytona Beach. Charley left an estimated 1 million Floridians without power or shelter, and killed 22, reports last week said.

Some grocery stores in Florida suffered physical damage and had to be closed for repair. Many others lost inventory or were forced to reduce hours and the kinds of goods they sold because of power and water outages that still had not been restored by late last week. Meanwhile, distribution centers were working to re-stock stores that were overshopped in anticipation of the storm. They experienced spot shortages of items like ice, bottled water, bread and milk.

Though the overall financial impact of the storm on the food retailing business has yet to be determined, the effects should be in the tens of millions of dollars, based on available information. Frank Lazaran, president and chief executive officer of Jacksonville-based Winn-Dixie Stores, estimated the loss due to store closures and perishable inventory would exceed $10 million for the chain, which had as many as 150 stores closed as the storm first hit and still had 10 closed late last week.

In Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte, the coastal towns that took the worst of the storm's damage, Publix, Winn-Dixie, Kash n' Karry and Wal-Mart had stores still closed late last week. Winds caused "extensive damage" to the roof of a Wal-Mart general merchandise store that will not re-open for at least three weeks, Sharon Weber, spokeswoman for Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., told SN. A storm-ravaged Kash n' Karry location in Punta Gorda "needs a lot of TLC," said Camille Branch, a spokeswoman for the Tampa-based chain. Lakeland-based Publix had two stores in Port Charlotte that were closed due to storm damage and power/water outages, and a third in Punta Gorda was selling dry groceries during daylight hours because of power outages. A Publix store in Ormond Beach on Florida's Atlantic coast was also closed due to physical damage. A Winn-Dixie store in Punta Gorda was closed due to storm damage, while another in Port Charlotte, closed due to a power outage, had its parking lot turned into a temporary center for the National Guard.

According to Branch, the Punta Gorda location is the only one of Kash n' Karry's 103 Florida stores that was still closed by Thursday, though 12 were initially closed and re-opened gradually throughout the week as power was restored. Albertsons, which operates 124 stores in Florida, initially closed 31 stores due to the storm, but was able to reopen all of them within 72 hours, said Shane McEntarfer, a spokesman for the Boise, Idaho-based chain.

The Punta Gorda location was the only one of 209 Florida Wal-Mart facilities, including four distribution centers, that was still closed last week. A few stores were shut down briefly before power was restored. "We actually came through it all in pretty good shape," Weber said. "Our stores are now seeing good business from people buying cleaning products, and bottled water has been big. We haven't had any merchandise shortages."

Winn-Dixie's 10 closed stores were mainly in Southwest Florida. Joanne Gage, a spokeswoman for Winn-Dixie, told SN she was uncertain how soon it would be before the stores were reopened. "Some had heavy damage."

In addition to getting their own stores back up and running, grocery chains were heavily involved last week in assisting in cleanup and recovery. Publix, Albertsons, Winn-Dixie, Kash n' Karry, Kroger and Food Lion began facilitating checkout donations, with proceeds to be directed toward the American Red Cross, United Way and other agencies. Separately, Publix said it will donate $1 million to relief efforts. Albertsons said it would accept checkout donations for Charley relief efforts through next week at its 2,500 stores nationwide, and would contribute $100,000 to the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund.

Kash n' Karry donated a generator to the town of Wauchula to help restore water and power, and sent aid to the Arcadia and Punta Gorda communities, Branch said.

"Our store managers were out in the community, getting food to their neighbors right away," said Branch. "We have also been active in our human resources department to make sure our associates who live in the affected areas were getting aid through our company and agencies."

Kash n' Karry's sister chain, Salisbury, N.C.-based Food Lion, said it sent more than two tons of snack foods, 1,000 loaves of bread, 36,288 bottles of water, and 42,000 pounds of ice to the American Red Cross in Daytona Beach. Food Lion also sent gift cards to assist hurricane victims.