RETAILERS BOUNCE BACK AFTER WILMA

Though Hurricane Wilma's fierce winds and rains caused hundreds of stores in South Florida to close early last week, retailers were opening them up again almost as quickly, citing good fortune and preparedness steeled by a rash of similar disasters over the last year."We fared well because we were prepared," Nicole LeBeau, a spokeswoman for Tampa-based Kash n' Karry/Sweetbay, told SN last week.Hurricane

Though Hurricane Wilma's fierce winds and rains caused hundreds of stores in South Florida to close early last week, retailers were opening them up again almost as quickly, citing good fortune and preparedness steeled by a rash of similar disasters over the last year.

"We fared well because we were prepared," Nicole LeBeau, a spokeswoman for Tampa-based Kash n' Karry/Sweetbay, told SN last week.

Hurricane Wilma shot across southern Florida beginning early Monday, causing its worst physical devastation in Broward and southeastern Palm Beach counties on the Atlantic Coast, and a line of floods, uprooted trees and downed power lines in its path. Power outages were widespread: Utility company Florida Power & Light said around 60% of its service territory was affected, covering 35 counties. It said it could be three weeks before power was restored to all customers.

The power outages had many Florida supermarkets running last week on generator power, limiting stores to selling non-perishables. Physical damage to stores was minimal, retailers told SN.

Wilma was the fifth major hurricane to hit Florida since last August, when Hurricane Charley battered the Gulf Coast. Retailers said having been through Charley, Frances, Ivan and Jeanne last season helped them prepare.

"We've become the experts at this," Maria Brous, a spokeswoman for Publix Super Markets, Lakeland, Fla., told SN.

Publix had as many as 400 stores closed when Wilma hit, but most were reopened by late Wednesday, the company said. In anticipation of the storm, Publix went to a 24-hour schedule at its distribution centers, putting employees on 12-hour shifts with no off days.

Through handouts at its stores and on its "Storm Ready" Web site, Publix provided shoppers with lists of emergency items to purchase as well as tips on food safety during power outages.

Winn-Dixie had reopened 125 of its 145 stores closed due to Wilma by late Wednesday of last week, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based retailer said.

Wal-Mart Stores, Bentonville, Ark., said it had closed 71 facilities but had reopened all but 11 locations by Thursday.