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Retailers get first-hand look at devastation

The entire country slowed to a halt last week, as it tried to begin comprehending the terrorist disasters here and in Washington.

Business nationwide was affected by the suspended action at the Stock Exchange and the cancellation of all airline travel, but mostly from the haunting images viewed on television.

Unfortunately, it was extremely personal for some retailers. The TJX Companies confirmed that seven of its employees were on the American Airlines Flight 11 (Boston to Los Angeles) that was hijacked and flown into the World Trade Center.

And it was only five months ago that many retailers attended the HFPA's Retailer of the Year awards, held at Windows on the World, the restaurant that was on the 107th floor of One World Trade Center.

"You realize how fragile life is," said Anita Iodice, president of The Company Store and an award recipient at April's ROTY event. She also clarified that The Company Store listed on the tenant list of 1 World Trade Center is another company with the same name and not a part of the Hanover Direct division.

From its offices in Weehawken, NJ, however, Iodice said they had an "immediate view" of everything that happened, and evacuated the building, which is situated near the mouth of the Lincoln Tunnel, that morning. They returned to the office later in the week and just "focused on being together" and asking customers to donate, as they did.

How business is doing, of course, is far from anyone's mind. "Like everyone else, I've been glued to any minute developments over the past few days," she said. "Business has fallen off, as expected ... But once we get through a few more days, I think people will come back."

Reports early this week already stated that retailers such as Wal-Mart and Federated saw sales drop with last week's events. Wal-Mart sales were slightly below forecasts, but it maintained its sales projections for September. The retailer said last week started off at levels similar to August, and customer traffic spiked early on Tuesday as consumers loaded up on essential items like groceries. By early Tuesday afternoon and on into Wednesday, however, store traffic dropped sharply, Wal-Mart said. Sales returned to more normal levels by the weekend, it said, and it still forecasts same-store sales growth of 4 percent to 6 percent.

Federated stated that its weekly sales were about $65 million below company forecasts due to the attacks. Consumer traffic did pick up over the weekend, Federated said, but sales were still well below company forecasts. Earlier this month, Federated said it expected comp-store sales to fall 1 percent to 2 percent during the fall months.

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