RETAILERS, CONSUMERS SCRAMBLE TO PREPARE FOR HURRICANE FELIX

With Hurricane Felix hovering off the North Carolina-Virginia coastline and threatening to hit land late last week, retailers and consumers in those areas were taking special precautions in advance of the uncertain weather. Retailers reported heavier business than usual, as consumers sought to stock up on nonperishables, particularly water. To meet this demand, numerous retailers told SN they had

With Hurricane Felix hovering off the North Carolina-Virginia coastline and threatening to hit land late last week, retailers and consumers in those areas were taking special precautions in advance of the uncertain weather. Retailers reported heavier business than usual, as consumers sought to stock up on nonperishables, particularly water. To meet this demand, numerous retailers told SN they had worked out alternate means of supplying those items to stores affected by the storm.

"People are tending to overbuy in anticipation of the worst, though no one is sure what the worst is," Archie Fraelin, public affairs manager for Kroger's Mid-Atlantic division, based in Roanoke, Va., told SN. Kroger Co. was pulling extra quantities of bottled water from its Bluefield, Va., bottling plant and scrambling to keep staples like milk and bread in stock, Fraelin said. At Farm Fresh, Norfolk, Va., business was up on Tuesday "and Wednesday was pure bedlam," said Michael E. Julian, chairman, president and chief executive officer. "This is the first dead-on hit possibility by a hurricane in this area in a long time, and some people are overreacting, buying enough food for a couple of weeks." Julian said Farm Fresh ran out of batteries, candles and oil lamps early in the week but was able to secure adequate supplies from various sources by midweek. The chain was also seeking to buy bottled water from distributors all over the East Coast last week because its wholesaler, Richfood, Mechanicsville, Va., maintains low inventory levels, Julian said.

Ruth Kinzey, manager of public affairs at Harris Teeter, Matthews, N.C., said consumers were buying the usual assortment of products in advance of the storm -- bottled water, ice, paper products, batteries, candles, plastic utensils, plastic bags, bread, canned goods, apples and potatoes -- "and in this particular instance sales of snack foods, beer and wine have also increased noticeably," she said. She said Harris Teeter was following pre-set procedures and preparing to move product from stores in areas that are not threatened to stores that are potentially threatened "to enable our stores to have supplies within a couple of hours and to make sure that supply continues to arrive in the quantity needed."

Before Hurricane Felix moved north, it slammed into Bermuda early in the week, forcing most businesses to close at midday.

Marketplace, an eight-store chain based in Hamilton, Bermuda, suffered minor physical damage at one store and lost power at four units, although all four were able to operate with generator power, Scott Carswell, a spokesman, told SN.

The storm had been a threat for four days before it hit, and Marketplace was able to accommodate the heavy buying that ensued by bring in heavier-than-usual inventories on needed products, Carswell said.