Will Sandy take bite out of Halloween candy sales?

Drugstores may get sales boost from storm prep; but take hit from fewer Halloween celebrations

Associated Press

NEW YORK (AP) -- Drugstores may have benefited from customers stocking up on batteries and other emergency essentials ahead of "Superstorm" Sandy's landfall on Monday. But the record-setting storm has caused many towns to cancel or postpone Halloween events, potentially curbing sales of candy and decorations.

Customers were expected to spend about $8 billion on Halloween decorations, candy, costumes, and other items this year, according to the National Retail Federation. While many of those purchases have already been made, Sandy arrived during a time when many customers make last-minute shopping trips to drugstores for Halloween supplies. Hurricane preparations could have boosted revenue for the chains, but a scaled-down Halloween would hurt sales, Raymond James analyst John Ransom said in a note to clients.

"Superstorm" Sandy brought floods and high winds to the eastern seaboard, and left a wide swath of damage through New Jersey and New York City. It is expected to reach upstate New York Tuesday night, bringing heavy rain and flooding as it gradually loses strength. Downed power lines, flooded streets and fallen trees and other debris make it difficult to keep would-be trick-or-treaters safe.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie said Tuesday that he would sign an executive order rescheduling Halloween if conditions on Wednesday are not safe for trick-or-treating. Towns in New Jersey, upstate New York, Pennsylvania and New Hampshire have already made or are considering similar moves.

The three largest U.S. drugstore chains, Walgreen, CVS, and Rite Aid, all said their East Coast stores stocked up on products like bottled water, batteries, flashlights, and other items. Walgreen added that it was keeping open as many 24-hour locations as possible to help customers needing to restock supplies.

Raymond James' Ransom said that Rite Aid Corp. has about 40 percent of its stores, or more than 1,800 locations, in areas of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast that were affected by the storm. He estimated that about 20 percent of CVS' 7,400 total stores were in those areas. Walgreen Co., which has more than 7,900 stores, had a smaller proportion of its locations in range of the storm.

CVS Caremark Corp. spokesman Mike DeAngelis said that as of 2 p.m. Tuesday about 600 stores were still closed or inaccessible. Hundreds more have already reopened, and DeAngelis said the number of shuttered stores was decreasing quickly.

DeAngelis declined to comment on what the storm might mean for CVS' sales, as the Woonsocket, R.I., company is scheduled to report its third-quarter earnings on Nov. 6. He said the company might discuss those issues during its conference call with analysts and investors.

Walgreen said it had about 1,400 stores in the areas affected by the storm, including the New York City-based chain Duane Reade, and as many as 750 of its stores were closed during the height of the storm Monday night. That number fell to about 530 by noon on Tuesday.

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