Few people in mood to sell or shop
Seattle Times business reporter
When Toni Hartje dropped by the Phinney Ridge Starbucks at lunchtime yesterday, she found the doors locked and a sign saying the store had closed in response to the East Coast terrorist attacks.
Hartje was unfazed; in the aftermath of the worst terrorism act in U.S. history, she said, a latte could wait.
"I was surprised, but I think it's great," she said. "In America, you hear about one catastrophe or another, and we're so immune to it, you blink and carry on with your day. It's causing us to think a bit more."
Scores of Seattle-area retailers shut their doors as the sobering magnitude of yesterday's terrorist attacks against the United States began to sink in. Some stores and malls closed immediately, while others waited until midafternoon after finding that customers, reeling in the aftermath of the attacks, weren't in the mood to shop.
"Our customers aren't shopping — they're upset," said Kimberly Reason, spokeswoman for The Bon Marché, after the department-store chain closed all of its 42 stores in five states yesterday afternoon.
"It's a good business decision to close down."
Other stores made it a point not to close.
Issaquah-based retailer Costco kept the majority of its stores open, in part because "you don't give into this thing," said President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Sinegal. The only Costco stores to close were in New York and Pentagon City, Va., not far from the attacks, Sinegal said.
Costco stores reported normal sales except for items such as sugar, milk and gas, which were up.
A few hours after hijacked planes crashed into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, Starbucks announced the immediate closure of its 3,700 stores in North America. The company plans to reopen the coffee shops today.
Starbucks President and CEO Orin Smith said employees and customers were safely evacuated from about 10 stores around the World Trade Center immediately after the first plane hit one of the 110-story twin towers.
By midmorning, Smith said, company executives decided that while any imminent security threat seemed to have passed, "the bigger issue was that a lot of our people are affected emotionally by this."
Because some employees have friends or relatives directly affected by the attacks, Smith said, Starbucks officials "decided it was best to take the day off and let the situation settle a little bit."
While some customers hailed the move, others found it too drastic.
"I think that to close every store of Starbucks in the whole nation is overreacting," said Rick Hunt of Seattle, who also stopped by the Phinney Ridge Starbucks.
Smith said he expected some customers to disagree with the company's action, but "we will always err on the side of the physical and emotional well-being of our partners."
Nordstrom closed 20 stores on the East Coast, in Chicago and in San Francisco within hours of the attack and by midafternoon decided to close 18 stores in the Northwest, spokeswoman Shasha Richardson said.
Retailers acknowledged that closing stores yesterday would take a toll on sales figures, especially in light of the slumping economy. But it was impossible to proceed with a business-as-usual atmosphere.
"It really is a people issue," said Reason, the Bon spokeswoman. "People are really distracted and upset, and it isn't right to stay open."
And with shoppers staying home in droves, Reason said, "frankly, it would have cost us more money to stay open."
At a Briazz store at Fifth Avenue and Union Street in downtown Seattle, sullen customers lined up for sandwiches and drinks throughout the morning.
It was busy, but manager Eric Hanfling was wondering how to handle business.
"Our thing is to be really friendly, asking people how they're doing," he said.
"But on a day like today, what the heck kind of question is that? We all know how people are doing. Nobody wants to be greeted today."
Yesterday's shutdown of commercial air travel wasn't expected to hurt supplies of food in area supermarkets for the short term.
"We're in good shape," Safeway spokeswoman Cherie Myers said.
"If you go three, four, five days, you might have to rethink the produce line, but I think we're fine. But could we be in good shape a month from now? No."
Myers said there was no sign of a run on food and supplies as occurs when a big storm is expected to hit.
"It's just a pretty somber feeling everywhere," she said.
While business was generally slow, sales of some items picked up throughout the day.
"We're selling a lot of flags and candles for candlelight vigils," Fred Meyer spokesman Rob Boley said.
Seattle Times staff reporters Bill Kossen, Eric Sorensen and Luke Timmerman contributed to this story. Jake Batsell can be reached at 206-464-2718 or firstname.lastname@example.org.