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After Irma, 'commerce has essentially come to a halt' in Florida

Illinois companies ranging from Walgreens to United Airlines are bracing for the hit to their bottom lines from the unprecedented one-two punch of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

By one measure, Irma, which made landfall in Florida on Sunday as a Category 4 hurricane, is expected to have an economic impact nearly three times greater than Harvey, according to Scott Bernhardt, president of Planalytics, a Pennsylvania-based consulting firm that measures the economic impact of weather.

The second storm will suck $2.8 billion out of the retail economy, while Harvey's impact on retail was pegged at about $1 billion, according to Planalytics.

"In Florida, commerce has essentially come to a halt," Bernhardt said. "There's almost $3 billion of sales that are not going to come back."

Bernhardt said the Irma impact is greater because of the size of the population underneath the storm, which shut down businesses across Florida.

In advance of the storm, Walgreens closed nearly all of its 830 stores in Florida and most of its 120 stores in Puerto Rico, spokesman Phil Caruso said.

Some locations in Puerto Rico came back online within hours and nearly all had reopened by Monday morning. Many relied on generators — the island was damaged but only grazed by the storm. But in Florida, only about 25 stores were open Monday morning.

With curfews and other mandates still in effect in parts of the state, Walgreens remains in the "very early stages" of assessing its stores, Caruso said.

"We will work to reopen them as soon as it is safe to do so," he said.

Caruso declined to comment on the economic impact of closing hundreds of Walgreens stores, though he said Florida stores saw increased demand as people prepared for Irma.

Two days after Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency, the Deerfield-based company sent out tips for Floridians. Store your medication in a waterproof bag, it said, and take your empty prescription bottles as you evacuate — any Walgreens pharmacy can refill them.

Irma touched hundreds more of the pharmacy's locations than its Category 4 predecessor, Harvey. Walgreens has about 500 stores in the southeast region of Texas, Caruso said. Harvey made landfall Aug. 25, and at one point in the days following, 175 of those stores were closed.

Most had reopened by Thursday, he said.

Back in Deerfield, there's an operations center running 24/7 to help the stores reopen as quickly as possible.

Irma also is shutting down alcohol production in its wake.

One of MillerCoors' seven major breweries is in Albany, Ga. It's closed Monday and Tuesday, spokesman Marty Maloney said. Miller Lite, Coors Light, Miller High Life, Redds Apple Ale and Henry's Hard Soda are among the brands brewed at that facility.

Down in the U.S. Virgin Islands, which were hit particularly hard, Beam Suntory shut down its Cruzan Rum distillery, spokeswoman Emily York said. It reopened Monday morning.

Passing through northern Florida on Monday, Irma is expected to head northwest as a tropical storm, according to the National Weather Service. It likely will downgrade to a tropical depression as it moves through Alabama and up through Tennessee.

Once the storm passes through, Constellation Brands will assess the damage to its facilities in the area, Jamie Stein, spokeswoman for the company's Chicago-based beer division, said in an emailed statement.

In August, the beer division acquired Funky Buddha Brewery, based in Oakland Park, just north of Fort Lauderdale. The brewery, known for quirky brews such as Last Snow Coconut Coffee Porter and Floridian Hefeweizen, shut down Friday for the weekend.

Constellation also has an Orlando office with employees from the beer, wine and spirits divisions. The company worked with local authorities to prepare for the storm, and now employees' safety comes first, Stein said.

The drill was similar at Portillo's two locations in the Tampa area. All the employees are safe, and the advanced warning gave the company time to prepare, which meant hardly any food loss, spokesman Nick Scarpino said.

Still, the food joint known for its hot dogs and chocolate cake shakes shut down Saturday. Both locations, one of which lost power, should reopen Tuesday, he said, though business will likely be slow.

"Friday, Saturday and Sunday are the three busiest days of the week," Scarpino said. "We lost two of them."

Peoria-based Caterpillar shut down facilities and offices in Florida last week to give employees time to prepare for the storm, spokeswoman Jamie Fox said in an emailed statement. Many sites in Florida and Georgia remained closed Monday.

The maker of earth-moving equipment took similar action during Harvey and shut down facilities in Texas. Those facilities sustained little damage, Fox said in the statement, and the overall financial impact from the storm should be minimal.

Some Caterpillar dealers in Texas fired up their machines to help with recovery efforts after Harvey. The company expects to see a similar effort in Florida.

Days after resuming a full flight schedule in Houston, United Airlines and other carriers are completely shut down across the state of Florida.

"We're looking to see when it makes sense to resume operations, but for now, we're not operating any flights in and out (of Florida), with the exception of some relief and humanitarian aid," Charlie Hobart, a spokesman for Chicago-based United, said Monday.

United suspended operations in South Florida on Friday afternoon and at other Florida airports on Saturday. The airline added extra flights beginning Thursday to help passengers get out of the state before Irma arrived.

For United, marshaling resources for Harvey helped the airline respond more quickly to Irma.

"Clearly, we dealt with Houston and we were prepared, more so, in terms of how we would pivot to our operation in South Florida," Hobart said.

rchannick@chicagotribune.com

amarotti@chicagotribune.com

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