On Sept. 11, when planes crashed into two towers of the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and an empty field in Pennsylvania, the world gasped in unison. The unimaginable had happened - terrorism on American soil.
In the days that followed, American citizens began to pick up the pieces - literally - and attempted, as their president urged, to resume their lives. "Getting back to normal," however, has not been such an easy task, as anxious Americans question not only their physical security, but their financial well-being as well.
As the human and financial costs are tallied, few would argue that the Sept. 11 tragedy did not send a shockwave through the U.S. economy. National Floor Trends asked retailers from around the country to share with readers how their business has been affected in the wake of the attacks.
In the Northeast, effects on retail flooring businesses ran the gamut. Some retailers noticed slower traffic, while others claimed that business remained the same or even improved.
"Things weren't outstanding beforehand. [We] noticed a slowdown. People are scaling back," said Albert Benavides of Aldo Carpets in Carteret, N.J. Benavides noted that some customers who committed to purchases changed their orders to lower-grade products in the first few weeks following the attacks.
Scott Markoff of Fox Floors Carpet One in Staten Island, N.Y. reported a similar experience, saying that traffic had "quieted down considerably." Markoff said that he believed sales would eventually get back to normal. He pointed to the stock market's short-term performance as a key factor in any sales rebound.
Barry Rotman, president of Rotman's in Worcester, Mass. agreed with Markoff. "Personally, I think that the large drop in the stock market is what is depressing sales. Many people have seen their retirement account drop in value and they feel nervous," he said. Rotman also characterized the negative effect of the attacks on retail sales as temporary.
But David Hunt of Vermont Custom Rug Co. in Bristol, Vt. had a far more upbeat experience. "Business is better than ever," he said in the days following the attacks. "In fact, we have just invested in adding two new woven lines - one Wilton, one Axminster - onto the sales floor.
"The way we see it is, if you plan for an economic slowdown, that's exactly what you'll get," Hunt added.
In the Southeast United States, business paused temporarily in the days immediately following the attacks, but it has since returned to normal.
Harry Harles, vice president of Brentwood Carpets in Raleigh, N.C., noticed "a little bit of a drop in retail," but said that commercial sales have stayed the same.
In the tourist town of Naples, Fla., where many people spend their winters, Daniel Setterquist of Setterquist Carpet said a change in sales is hard to gauge because September is a slow time of year for his store. The first couple of days were slow, he said, but sales in the second week following the attacks were better.
Thomas Hadinger of Hadinger Carpets, also in Naples, said that, although he experienced a lull for the two weeks immediately following the attacks, sales are "starting to come back again."
Retailers in the Midwest expressed guardedly optimistic sentiments when reporting their experiences in the weeks following the attacks.
Bob Hill of Floor Covering Associates in the western suburbs of Chicago noticed that, although his five retail stores experienced an initial decrease in customer activity during the few days following the attack, the traffic is actually up from the same time last year. Hill said he was "shocked" that business has been going so well.
Although some customers wanted to cancel orders, Hill encouraged them to think about the cancellation first. After a week of following Hill's advice, one customer decided against canceling her tile order.
"Traffic is significantly slower - last week more than this week," noted Tom Jennings of Lawrence, Kan.-based Carpet One. But Jennings remained cautiously optimistic about the future prospects for floor coverings.
"[Consumers] are still walking on it. They're still wearing it out," he said. "We assume [business activity] will resurrect...I think, as a people, we're just waiting to see what happens."
Tim Hyland, owner of Floor Covering Brokers in Traverse City, Mich., says that during the first few days following the tragedy, traffic was slower. "People were very uneasy to be in the store," he said. "[They] felt guilty about spending money."
By the weekend of Sept. 22, however, sales traffic began to increase and is now back to normal at Floor Covering Brokers. Hyland predicted that the second-home market will slow down because of the attack, but advised, "you can't jump the gun." He added, "At this point, people seem to be at ease...but the first week was tough."
Retailers in the Southwest felt ripple effects from the havoc the terrorist attacks wrought on the financial world.
Roger Frederick, CEO and owner of Flooring America of Denton, Texas has seen a "humongous change" in retail sales. "Sales are down 75% to 80%," he reported in the week following the attacks. While consumer sales have been affected, however, commercial business is still doing well at Frederick's store.
Frederick believes there are two key factors that will determine the outcome of the current situation. "The one thing in people's minds is the stock market," he said.
The other factor? "When people are not traveling and are home more, they have a tendency to remodel and redecorate...this could be a positive sign," he said.
In a later interview, Frederick reported that traffic in his store is increasing. "It's not great yet, but it's getting better," he said.
James Hale, owner of Harmony Carpet Cleaning & Floorcovering in Seminole, Okla., experienced a small downturn during the week of the attacks, but reported a rebound in sales in the weeks that followed. In October, Hale decided to buy a new building that, according to projections, would allow his store to accommodate increased traffic. "We've been absolutely swamped for the past couple of weeks now, and we haven't moved to the new building yet," he said.
Both Frank Rivera, of Image Floor Covering in Albuquerque, N.M. and Joe Brooner of Brooner's Floor Center in Stillwater, Okla. said they had not noticed much change in sales at their stores.
In the western United States, retailers provided mixed comments on their store traffic in the days following the attack.
"I don't know about other areas but, in central California, it's been quite busy. [The days immediately following the attack] were off a little, but overall it's gearing up for the holidays. I'm looking to put on some additional personnel," said Ed Vincent of Mr. Ed's Carpet Service in Santa Maria, Calif.
Unlike many of the previously mentioned companies, Builders Showcase Interiors in Santa Rosa, Calif. contracts with builders and is not open to the public.
The short-term outlook of Margee West, a vice president at Builders Showcase Interiors, is a bit muted compared to Vincent's. "We understand that, unless someone is already buying the home, sales will slow through the end of the year," she said.
At Fresno, Calif.-based A&M Carpet Max, Lee Horwitz, a former president of the World Floor Covering Association (WFCA), noticed that customer traffic was particularly limited during the week of the attack. About a month after the attacks, however, traffic has "picked up a little bit," Horwitz observed.
Additionally, in spite of the fact that this time of year is usually a slow time for the store because of a local county fair, sales are up over the period last year. However, he added, "We have noticed the quality of traffic is excellent."
Without a doubt, the recent events in New York and Washington D.C. affected the nation's economy on several different fronts. For some flooring retailers, these effects translated to slower traffic and declining sales. But as America rebuilds, inevitably, so will the economy.
Industry observers and participants alike agree that now is the time for flooring retailers, manufacturers and distributors to do all they can to inspire consumer confidence and help get the U.S. economy back on track.