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Tampa Bay faces shortages from Hurricane Ian. Stores brace for recovery.

Sales have jumped ahead of the storm, but stores are bracing for shutdowns and supply chain issues.
A Publix store in Metrowest was nearly sold out of water Saturday as residents readied themselves ahead of Hurricane Ian.
A Publix store in Metrowest was nearly sold out of water Saturday as residents readied themselves ahead of Hurricane Ian. [ CRISTóBAL REYES | Orlando Sentinel ]
Published Sep. 27|Updated Sep. 27

The only bottled water left at a Publix in Pinellas Park on Monday were pricier brands like Voss and Fiji.

At a Walgreens nearby, employees laid out whatever flashlights the store had left across an empty cash register counter.

Gas stations across St. Petersburg wrapped pumps in plastic bags when they ran out of fuel.

Tampa Bay residents have been stocking up ahead of Hurricane Ian’s arrival, which is expected to make landfall in Florida on Wednesday evening into Thursday morning. But people with last-minute needs should expect shelves to be empty ahead of the storm and possibly in the days or weeks after. Stores may also close earlier than usual to allow time for employees to get to safety.

Grocery and convenience stores see their revenues increase 5% to 10% about three days before a hurricane hits, according to Planalytics, a data firm that tracks weather’s effect on shopping. A day before a major storm, sales can increase 30% to 50% compared to normal.

“If you’re in the Tampa Bay area in a part that could potentially be impacted by storm surge, the time to buy things is gone,” said Dennis J. Smith, at Florida’s State University’s Department of Urban and Regional Planning.

At this stage, residents should be evacuating if their county mandated it or gathering important documents to make sure they’re in a safe place away from water damage, Smith said. But if people still need to get supplies, he said, they shouldn’t hoard.

Publix plans to stay open until dangerous conditions arrive. Shoppers can check the open status of their local stores online, spokesperson Hannah Herring said in an email.

“We have seen increased purchases on items such as bread, water, batteries and canned goods, just to name a few. Our top priority is the safety of our associates, customers and communities, and Publix will continue to make product deliveries as long as it is safe to do so,” she said.

Walmart is also preparing for the storm.

“We’re closely watching Hurricane Ian’s track and are working to make sure our stores are prepared to safely serve our customers and communities, both before and after the storm,” Walmart spokesperson Robert Arrieta said in an email.

This potential major hurricane could hit one of the most vulnerable metropolitan areas at a time it was economically booming after the pandemic.

While sales are surging ahead of Hurricane Ian, businesses are preparing to take a financial hit as forecasters expect Hurricane Ian to slow down along the Gulf Coast and prolong the time that stores stay closed.

“The period before a storm, there is a huge surge in spending. Everyone’s stocking up, whether that’s bread, water and plywood,” said Justin Greider, head of Florida retail for the commercial real estate firm JLL. “But once a storm comes, for every day stores have to be closed, there’s a significant financial impact to them.”

In 2017, sales ahead of Hurricane Irma jumped about $31 million in Pinellas County, according to a report from the Tampa Bay Regional Planning Council. But during the storm and after, sales dropped by approximately $100 million, with stores closed for about four or five days. The following week, sales dropped about $15 million as stores struggled to restock. Other hospitality sectors like restaurants and entertainment lost $56 million in sales.

Hourly employees are also not paid when stores are closed. About 200,000 workers in Pinellas County weren’t paid for several days during Irma.

Global supply chain issues from the pandemic could also impact the recovery and add inflationary pressure to a region that has among the highest inflation seen in the U.S., said Bindiya Vakil, CEO and founder of supply chain mapping company Resilinc. At the worst, Vakil said, regional supply chains could be affected for nine weeks along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

Major retailers will have their own plans in place on how to get basic goods into an impact zone after a storm passes, Vakil said. While there may be delays in getting shelves stocked, priority will go to necessities like water, food and gasoline plus any perishables left in stock.

Typically, retailers like Publix or Walmart have inventory and warehouses outside the impact zone. They can restock when roads are cleared, Vakil said. It’s Florida’s manufacturing companies and factories that could take the longest to recover.

“You may not immediately see it as a consumer but indirectly over the next few months it does impact supply chain financially because the factory that made something in Florida didn’t ship for four weeks,” Vakil said.

FSU’s Smith said Florida should brace for both short-term and long-term economic impacts from Hurricane Ian. There were still signs of damage in New Orleans a decade after Hurricane Katrina, Smith said. It could take years for the region to recover, depending on how hard the major storm will hit, and material shortages could make recovery tougher.

“For short-term recovery, we’re gonna expect to see things like damaged homes and damaged businesses. … If we are hit hard, that will linger.”

• • •

2022 Tampa Bay Times Hurricane Guide

IT'S STORM SEASON: Get ready and stay informed at tampabay.com/hurricane.

RISING THREAT: Tampa Bay will flood. Here's how to get ready.

DOUBLE-CHECK: Checklists for building all kinds of hurricane kits

PHONE IT IN: Use your smartphone to protect your data, documents and photos.

SELF-CARE: Protect your mental health during a hurricane.

• • •

Rising Threat: A special report on flood risk and climate change

PART 1: The Tampa Bay Times partnered with the National Hurricane Center for a revealing look at future storms.

PART 2: Even weak hurricanes can cause huge storm surges. Experts say people don't understand the risk.

PART 3: Tampa Bay has huge flood risk. What should we do about it?

INTERACTIVE MAP: Search your Tampa Bay neighborhood to see the hurricane flood risk.

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