"Literally the only flashlights left at Target," a Washington, D.C., man posted to Twitter on Saturday with a photo. That was two days before monster-storm Sandy made landfall, and he was lucky to have found any at the Columbia Heights store.
Nearby, at Home Depot, whole sections of the store were already empty. It had sold out of generators, batteries and flashlights. But even when people didn't find what they were looking for, they were still buying. In some industries, hurricane business seriously boosts the bottom line.
"Customers are being very creative," said Crysta Norris, operations manager at the store.
Along the East Coast, Hurricane Sandy drove the same kind of rush that happens before a blizzard. Gas stations saw long lines, bodegas were picked dry and some stores even sold out of the most pungent of scented candles. While the clamor for bottled water and battery-powered lanterns may have passed, other industries are getting a surge of business in the storm's aftermath.
"We are extremely, extremely busy," said Tara Gallagher, who answered the phone at North Jersey Tree Specialists on Wednesday morning. The tree removal service was so inundated that Gallagher said she barely had time to describe what was happening. "That's how busy we are," Gallagher said. "We're probably getting, on average, 300 calls a day."
Waste removal services and construction suppliers likely will see similar demand. Yet many industries are suffering. Sandy forced airlines to cancel nearly 20,000 flights as of Wednesday morning, according to the flight tracker FlightAware.com. Those cancellations create a far-reaching economic ripple effect.
"Let's imagine a family that was scheduled to come to New York this week," IHS Global Insight economist Gregory Daco said. "Their flight may have been canceled. It may have been postponed to Wednesday or Thursday. Are you still going to fly across the Atlantic - say they come from Europe - for just two days or three days? In those cases, you have disruption on the tourism front. That hurts airlines, that hurts hotels."
Industries also face the possible one-two punch of structural damage and loss of business because of closure or people staying home. In Atlantic City, the second biggest gambling market in the United States after Las Vegas, casinos were ordered to close.
"We are not going to speculate on revenue loss at this time," New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement Director David Rebuck said through a spokeswoman. "Once the casinos are back in operation a complete and accurate assessment will be made."
But if past revenue is any indication, Atlantic City casinos lose millions of dollars a day by being closed. Gambling revenue exceeded $262 million last October, according to The Atlantic City Convention & Visitors Authority. That translates to an average of nearly $8.5 million a day for the market. Casinos in Atlantic City have been shuttered since Sunday afternoon.
Even for businesses like hardware stores that saw a shock of demand for flashlights and batteries, a hurricane doesn't necessarily pad revenues.
"Of course there's a temporary surge in business, but you do hurricane business and forgo all other business," said Jerry Walsh, the long-time owner of Mayday Hardware in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. "Overall it's flat. Nobody's buying oven cleaner. They will buy oven cleaner, just not today."
Walsh said he's learned how to be ready for anything in his 36 years running the store. For one thing, he never ran out of flashlights or batteries during the storm, he said. Competition from national super-stores and the nature of being a New Yorker has forced him to be ready for anything and resilient once it happens.
"If you're an experienced hardware retailer, you will be prepared for all sorts of emergencies," Walsh said. "We're able to react in ways that big boxes can't react. We are able to respond, microcosmically, to the needs of this specific neighborhood. We are New York hardware stores. And if you would like Duracell batteries right now, come on down."