Retail sales fell in October, for the first time in several months. Analysts largely blamed the hurricane. If they're right, sales will bounce back this month and the economic recovery will continue (slowly, slowly).
That's the big picture. To get a sense of the small picture — messier, more ambiguous — I visited three small businesses on Cross Bay Boulevard, in Howard Beach, Queens. The storm swept in here and flooded the neighborhood.
1. The Party Store
The storm hit on Oct. 29 — the worst possible time for Cedarhurst Party Store. "We are a tremendously big Halloween store," Mary Galady, the manager, told me. "And that's just gone."
Bad to worse: The Christmas decorations and greeting cards were storied in the basement, which flooded.
2. The Salon
Nail Pro, a salon up the block from the party store, has been closed for three weeks now. They have to buy new pedicure chairs.
But getting your nails done is a classic deferred purchase. The store is likely to see a rush of business when it re-opens, from all those people who put off getting their nails done during and right after the storm.
3. The Bodega
A bodega here closed for just a few hours during the worst of the storm. When the power was out, the worked by candlelight. They used battery powered calculators.
"Our coffee business skyrocketed," Jimmy Wilson said. "People would come in and buy 10, 15 cups at a time."
Sales are still up, Wilson said.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
Natural disasters have a big impact on the economy. And the effects of Hurricane Sandy are reflected in lots of economic measures, including retail sales. They were down for the month of October, according to government numbers out today. That's after rising for the three previous months.
NPR's Zoe Chace talked with several businesses in the storm's path, and found that each has a different story to tell about Sandy's impact.
ZOE CHACE, BYLINE: Welcome to Cross Bay Boulevard in Howard Beach, Queens. The storm swept in here and flooded the neighborhood. Our first stop...
MARY GALADY: This is Cedarhurst Paper, we're a party store. Any occasion you can think of having a party, we supply it.
CHACE: Mary Galady is a manager here. This place is going to have a hard time ever making up for the lost sales from Sandy.
GALADY: Stuff was just floating in the aisles. I mean, literally just floating.
CHACE: What kinds of stuff? Halloween stuff. Remember, the storm hit on October 29th, right before the biggest sales time of the year for this place.
GALADY: We are a tremendously big Halloween store. And that's just gone.
CHACE: You can't get back the Halloween sales later on, even with Christmas and Chanukah. Especially since the Christmas decorations and greeting cards were stored in the basement.
After the drop in sales from a disaster like Sandy, there's sometimes a sharp rebound. Up the block is a salon. Leanna Shimunova and Hannah Achildva are cleaning up inside.
LEANNA SHIMUNOVA: We work in Nail Pro, Howard Beach. And we've been closed for how long?
HANNAH ACHILDVA: Three weeks now.
SHIMUNOVA: Three weeks.
ACHILDVA: Mm-hmm, three weeks.
SHIMUNOVA: Yeah, lost a lot of business.
CHACE: This place may struggle at first. They have to buy brand new pedicure chairs and nail polish. But doing your nails is a classic deferred purchase. It's not that you won't get your nails done, you'll just do them later when things are back to normal.
And then there are the places that boomed during the hurricane.
JIMMY WILSON: We've been going 24/7 since the storm.
CHACE: Jimmy Wilson says this bodega only closed for a few hours. They worked by candlelight with calculators.
WILSON: Our coffee business skyrocketed. We were selling coffee all day long. I mean, people would come in and buy 10, 15 cups at a time.
CHACE: Since the storm sales have been way up, Wilson says.
WILSON: Five and a quarter.
(SOUNDBITE OF A CASH REGISTER)
CHACE: A natural disaster like this can cast a long shadow on the economy, both good and bad. Part-time construction workers may get full-time jobs in places like this. And they'll probably buy more coffee on their breaks. Nail salons and party stores will be ordering lots of products from wholesalers. And then maybe the customers will come back.
Zoe Chace, NPR News, New York. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.