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HOUSTON-Unlike the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in the Gulf Coast region three weeks ago, the anticipated Hurricane Rita on Saturday delivered minimal wreckage to Southern Texas. Though many retailers closed shops and evacuated in preparation for the worst, many were relieved to find their stores till intact when the winds had subsided.

Beaumont, TX-based Conn’s execs cited minimal damage from Hurricane Rita, saying 50 of its 55 stores were operation by Sunday. The home appliances company also said all of its distribution centers and service facilities, except for the Beaumont location, are operational, and its corporate headquarters building sustained minimal damage but no damage to its computer and telecommunications facilities.

“We expect, that once all stores in the storm-affected area are fully operational, we will experience a positive sales impact resulting from the consequences of the storm,” said Conn’s chairman and CEO, Thomas J. Frank.

City of Commerce, CA-based 99 Cents Only Stores reported 24 of its 25 stores that closed because of Rita have reopened. “We are pleased to reopen all but one of our 25 Houston area stores so quickly,” CEO Eric Schiffer said. “Over 99 truckloads of product will be delivered to our Texas stores this week. Our priority is to provide low-priced emergency, food, water and cleaning supplies.”

Big-box retailer Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which closed 150 stores on Saturday, reported a jump in sales in canned goods, batters, water, candles and lighting leading up to Hurricane Rita’s approach. By Monday, it had reopened 133. Home Depot said reopened 18 of its Houston stores Saturday afternoon after Hurricane Rita passed by the metropolitan area. Some stores closest to the Gulf of Mexico, where winds were more severe, remained closed Saturday.

Houston-based State Stores reported that a total of 118 stores in the Gulf Coast region were closed for a portion, or all of the period from Sept. 21 through Sept. 24. Due to the mandatory evacuations that were ordered as the storm moved across the Gulf of Mexico, closings occurred in coastal markets as far south as Corpus Christi, TX and as far east as southwestern Louisiana. All but 47 stores had reopened as of Sunday, and an additional 22 stores reopened yesterday. The company anticipates that most of the 25 stores that remain closed will reopen as power is restored in these markets, and that only a small number of its stores will require further assessment to determine their reopening status.

North Miami Beach, FL, shopping center owner, developer and operator Equity One Inc. said its centers emerged from Hurricane Rita unscathed, and Minneapolis-based Best Buy has reopened all but one Texas store after Hurricane Rita. Currently, Best Buy’s Beaumont, TX store remains closed and will reopen once damage is assessed in that community. The company says that three stores affected by Hurricane Katrina–located in Harvey, LA; Metairie, LA; and Mobile, AL–remain closed.

And Richmond, VA-based CarMax reported that Hurricane Rita is expected to have a minimal effect on overall sales and earnings. “We are very fortunate that the brunt of Rita’s force bypassed Houston,” said Austin Ligon, president and chief executive officer, in a statement. “We will have closed the Houston locations for about a week but, as with most weather-related events, we expect we will recover nearly all of the resulting lost sales during the next few months. We do not, however, expect there to be any sales benefit from Rita.”

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