How Hurricane Sandy Affected Jewelers: What We Know

News is still trickling in about the damage Hurricane Sandy did to retailers in our industry. I spoke to a few jewelers in the last couple of days, and most of them made it through all right—and we still, thankfully, have not received any reports of anyone in the business being seriously hurt or injured. Then again, the ones that could respond are those with power—and we know  millions in the areas where Sandy struck still don’t have it.

Ryan Blumenthal, owner of Corrine Jewelers in Toms River, N.J., has electricity in his home, but not in his store. And while his store didn’t sustain any damage—aside from a torn-down awning—he is pretty shaken up about the scale of the disaster.

“It was honestly the worst thing I have ever witnessed,” he says. “And I have lived here my whole life. As much as the news gave us a heads-up, the amount of devastation is pretty much unbelievable. All the places that we grew up with are pretty much destroyed.”

He adds: “We have of a lot of glass in our store so we paneled everything up. We definitely thought it would be better to be over-cautious.… We don’t have an estimated time when we’ll be back up but I’m hoping it’s sooner rather than later. Being shut down for so many days is a weird, weird feeling.”

Of course, the local economies in these areas will likely take a hit as well. “It’s definitely going to hurt,” says Donna Wi, manager for Venus Jewelers in Somerset, N.J., another store that didn’t sustain damage. “How do you recover from a week or more of loss? It’s going to take days, if not weeks, to clean up.”

If there is any silver lining in all this, it’s heartening to hear how many jewelers—like the Great American Jewelry Store in Massapequa Park, N.Y., Venus, and Earth Treasures in Eatontown, N.J. (currently running on generator power)—have let their stores serve as way-stations for their fellow citizens.

“We are one of the few places that are open,” says Karen Bischoff, Earth Treasures’ manager, who notes the store bought a generator when it remodeled early this year. “We are telling people, if you need warmth, or comfort, or TV, or power, come in and get it. We have always been about serving the area and we just want to help.”

Aside from the obvious public service aspect, this demonstrates that locally active brick-and-mortar businesses still have a place in their communities.

For a more global view, I talked with two employees of the Jewelers Mutual Insurance Co.—Jeff Baker, head of commercial underwriting, and Karen Belk, claims examiner. Highlights of our conversation follow:

JCK: What have you heard from jewelers regarding the storm?

Belk: It’s early now; we are just starting to get reports. We have heard everything from the store being damaged to being closed for a couple of days. Questions like: What is my policy going to pick up? They may have lost their outdoor siding. It is really across the board.

JCKHave you heard of a lot of stores being destroyed?

Belk: No, not at this point. 

JCKHow does this storm compare to past natural disasters as far as its effect on the industry?

Belk: It’s far too early to make that kind of a call… The size of this storm does make it unique as far as its impact on the industry. Because it was so large and so varying in the damage, [the picture] will take time to develop… Reports of damage of heavy severity are going to take a couple of days because of the limited power, phone, Internet access.

Baker: One thing we have noticed is that with all the reports on this storm coming on, jewelers did a fantastic job of planning, [taking] care of their jewelry, and making sure their safes and alarms were running. 

JCKWhat should jewelers do if their store was damaged?

Belk: No. 1, remember that personal safety is most important, especially if you are getting through an area that has been wet, has limited power, or may have downed trees. We know you are anxious to get in your business, but remember safety.

Beyond that, on a very basic level, document what you have as far as damages are concerned. We know a lot of people have smartphones with photo and video capability, and that is great information for your insurance company to have. Just start snapping photos.

It is good to separate damaged items from undamaged property. You may have to get rid of any standing water, pump it out. If temporary repairs need to be made, do that, but just keep all your invoices and any reports.

JCKAre there concerns related to security in these situations? 

Baker: Jewelers shouldn’t go into an area if they don’t know it’s safe. Make sure you bring someone along with you. We know that unfortunately some people take advantage of these situations. So make sure one person goes in to clear the premises. Use the buddy system.

There will be a lot of people walking around the area, including [people who say they are] claims adjusters. Make sure that person shows proper identification. 

Power is going to be an issue. If it’s on again, off again, that is also something to keep an eye on. We encourage jewelers to keep as much of their valuable goods in the safe every night. There is nothing better than good old-fashioned physical protection to take care of valuable jewelry items. [Ed. note: This is good advice in general.]

Work closely with your alarm companies. Make sure the doors are working well, the windows are securely locked. Over the next days, crime could be a problem. We don’t want to put any anxiety in jewelers’ minds. It’s just something to be aware of.

You can read Jewelers Mutual’s full list of hurricane-related tips here. Additional resources, such as information for small business loans, are available here. Jewelers Mutual customers with questions may call 800-558-6411 or send an email to YourInsuranceExpert@jminsure.com. Once again, we send our best to everyone affected by this tragedy.

 

JCK News Director