Retailers Rebound After Ike

Supermarket operators from Texas to Ohio worked to get stores back open last week amid widespread power outages in the wake of Hurricane Ike, the most damaging storm so far this year. While food retailers said they quickly reopened most of the stores that had been closed, by midweek several areas remained without power and dozens of stores were still shuttered. San Antonio-based H.E. Butt

HOUSTON — Supermarket operators from Texas to Ohio worked to get stores back open last week amid widespread power outages in the wake of Hurricane Ike, the most damaging storm so far this year.

While food retailers said they quickly reopened most of the stores that had been closed, by midweek several areas remained without power and dozens of stores were still shuttered.

San Antonio-based H.E. Butt Grocery Co. said its Galveston, Texas, store had suffered flood damage and was among a handful in the region that had not reopened as of last Wednesday.

“We haven't even been able to get to that store yet,” said Winell Heron, a spokeswoman for H-E-B, who noted that authorities were prohibiting Galveston residents from returning to the decimated city. “We're working feverishly to get our stores open as quickly as we can.”

Of the 56 H-E-B stores that had reopened in Houston by midweek, 22 were running on generator power, she said.

Cincinnati-based Kroger Co. said it was able to reopen one store in Galveston late last week, although 13 of its 113 Houston-area locations remained closed. Kroger's website listed 15 stores that were operating on generator power.

A spokesman for Safeway-owned Randalls could not be reached for comment, although reports said it was planning to reopen a store in Galveston.

More than 1 million people in Houston were expected to remain without power into this week.

Some retailers were able to reopen in blacked-out areas using generators, and others were operating on a limited basis without cash registers, accepting only credit cards or exact change. Demand for ice was so strong in Houston that some retailers were restricting purchases to one bag per customer, according to local reports, while others had formed separate lines for ice purchases.

According to reports, Lufkin, Texas-based Brookshire Brothers had reopened 47 of its 73 stores within a few days of the storm, although some stores were damaged. The retailer could not be reached for further comment.

Power outages due to high winds also occurred in other Midwestern cities as the storm swept north, shutting down supermarkets throughout a wide swath of the Midwest.

Kroger said “several” stores in Columbus, Ohio; Louisville, Ky.; and Cincinnati were temporarily closed early last week due to power outages. As of late last week, the company's website listed only four stores in the Cincinnati-Dayton, Ohio, area that were still without power.

In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Kroger said it was too early to determine the financial impact of the hurricanes, although some analysts said they believed the company got a brief bump in sales from customers stocking up before the storms hit.

“The effect on the Texas market will include physical property damage, product loss due to power outages, and the effect of stores closed either as a result of physical damage or power outages,” Kroger said in the filing.

The filing went on to state that widespread power outages in Indiana, Kentucky and Ohio “affected power supply to the company's stores, distribution centers and manufacturing plants. The effect on these markets will include physical property damage, product loss due to power outages, and the effect of closed stores, distribution centers and manufacturing plants.”

The company also said it was too soon to determine whether the storm impacted oil refineries in the Gulf of Mexico enough to disrupt fuel supply.

Retailers in the Houston area were speeding relief to the area.

H-E-B said more than 500 employees from across the state have traveled to Houston to volunteer their help. In addition, H-E-B has deployed its H-E-B Mobile Kitchen to provide hot meals and dispatched more than 40 vehicles, including fuel tankers and trailers carrying food, ice and water.

Kroger, meanwhile, said it had made a $100,000 donation to the Houston Area Ike Relief Fund for victims of the storm, and was also raising money in stores for the American Red Cross Disaster Relief Fund. It pledged to make a limited matching donation.