Sandy reopening
Workers remove the remaining protective plywood from store windows in Times Square following Hurricane Sandy on October 31, 2012 in New York City. Some New York stores have products but can't ship them. Others can't get merchandise, and more importantly, wonder whether shoppers will return. - 

There’s still much to be done, but power is gradually coming back to areas in the Northeast blacked out by Hurricane Sandy. Businesses are reopening, but under tough circumstances. Besides the power outage, it’s a nightmare to get supplies amid fuel shortages and snarled roads and ports.

In Manhattan's Lower East Side, legendary smoked fish store Russ & Daughters has been bustling with hungry lox lovers. The store was able to protect its perishable goods during the storm and reopen on generator power Thursday, thrilling electricity-starved neighbors. It’s hard to imagine the shop closing long, because its fans hold it to high standards.

“Some people are exceptionally understanding, but this being New York, there are a lot of people who just want to get back into things and they want it now,” says fourth-generation co-owner Niki Russ Federman.

Serving the local clientele is challenging enough. But the iconic shop ships its cured fish and various specialty products nationwide. Those shipments just restarted Monday.

Russ Federman says her store is ready to catch up on its mail order business and has the fish to fill orders. But the shippers they work with have had trouble getting back up to speed.

“There’s such a shortage of gas that they’re trying to just do what they can and get pickups made however they can,” she sighs.

Harvard Business School logistics professor Ananth Raman divides the core challenges many other businesses in the storm region face into two problems: missing product and missing customer.

As for missing product, Raman says most shipping problems should be taken care of in time for the holiday season. The potentially larger problem is the missing customer, consumers who cut holiday spending because they need money for hurricane repairs and other unexpected expenses.

“It could easily affect a consumer electronics retailer,” Raman says. “It could affect clothing very, very substantially.”

Apart from taking care of basic needs, people with heavy storm impact may not shop for months, Raman adds. The Northeast makes up a fifth of America’s GDP, which means that any noticeable decline in spending in the region will be felt nationally.

Follow Mark Garrison at @GarrisonMark