Ice Storm Shuts Food Retailers

The massive ice storm that swept through the country's midsection last week left millions of people without power and forced some retailers to shutter stores in several areas, at least temporarily. It's been absolutely devastating here in northern Arkansas and Missouri, Roger Collins, chairman and chief executive officer of Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., told SN. Of the chain's 53 stores in

The massive ice storm that swept through the country's midsection last week left millions of people without power and forced some retailers to shutter stores in several areas, at least temporarily.

“It's been absolutely devastating here in northern Arkansas and Missouri,” Roger Collins, chairman and chief executive officer of Harps Food Stores, Springdale, Ark., told SN.

Of the chain's 53 stores in the region, Collins said about 25 were without power for some time during last week.

“It could be another four or five days before we get power back to all our stores,” he told SN on Thursday. “We had some stores come back online today, but it has been very difficult, especially in some of the more remote areas.”

Collins said the company was working to keep as many stores open as possible by shifting about half a dozen generators among the stores that were without power. The company did not have enough generators to power up all of its locations, however, he said.

The storm coated much of the Midwest with a heavy layer of ice that brought trees and limbs crashing down on power lines. The weather remained cold as the storm passed, causing the ice to linger and continue to knock out power for at least two days. At least 23 deaths were attributed to the storm, and reports said about 1.3 million homes and businesses in a several-state region were still without power on Thursday.

Observers said most of the major roadways were quickly reopened, so store deliveries were not severely impacted. Some rural roads, however, remained closed due to debris and, in many areas, flooding.

Several retailers reported being able to salvage some perishable product by loading goods onto refrigerated trailers brought to the sites.

Collins said Harps was able to secure “about 25 to 30” refrigerated trucks from its supplier, Associated Whole Grocers, of Kansas City, Kan.

“That helped mitigate some of the loss of product,” Collins said.

In Kentucky, which was declared a federal disaster area last week after the storms, several retailers were still without power late last week, according to Ted Mason, executive director of the Kentucky Grocers Association, based in Frankfurt.

“There haven't been any major problems with delivery trucks getting to the stores — the main problem has been that the power has been out,” he told SN.

He said one “large food retailer,” which he declined to identify, had about 12 stores closed due to power outages, while another convenience-store chain reported 10 stores closed in the state.

Flooding also became a problem after the storm passed through, and reports said it could be three weeks before all roads are cleared of debris from the storm.

Mason noted that the cold that lingered in the region after the storm aggravated the situation.

“What we need is some thawing,” he said. “All of the ice is still on the trees — as soon as they take the ice off one line, another tree falls.”

A spokesman for Schnuck Markets, St. Louis, said the chain had only two stores lose power — both in the Evanston, Ind., market. Both stores were open late last week, operating on generators to power the lights and front end.

A spokeswoman for Kroger Co., Cincinnati, said it was “business as usual” for that chain last week.