Appliance stores are busier than ever replacing washers, dryers and refrigerators destroyed by Hurricane Sandy’s floodwaters.
Demand is so great in flood-wracked resort towns such as Longport that some residents have stopped delivery trucks on the street with offers to buy laundry machines on the spot.
“It’s horrible. Everyone has a story,” said Brian Finkelstein, of Linwood, general manager for Art Handler’s Appliance Center in Pleasantville.
“Customers are worried about their insurance checks. I don’t think anyone will be made 100 percent whole. And this is just the beginning,” he said.
Washers and dryers are in highest demand since many people lost theirs when their basements or mud rooms flooded.
Longport residents Anthony DiLorenzo and his wife, Dolores, shopped for a washer and dryer to replace those they lost in the one-story home where they have lived since 1972. The entire house has been gutted to repair the flood damage.
Dolores DiLorenzo was so distraught over the situation that she was hospitalized briefly last week after suffering a panic attack that she and everyone else feared was a heart attack. She still has not been able to bring herself to return home to see the damage firsthand.
Family photo albums were damaged by water that seeped into sealed plastic storage bins that must have leaked. Daughter Angel DiPentino, of Longport, was hopeful that many of the albums could be saved or restored.
In the meantime, the couple said, they are counting their blessings.
“We have a lot to be thankful for,” Dolores DiLorenzo said.
“A lot of people have it even worse than us,” her husband added. “We have a shot at rebuilding.”
In the meantime, appliance stores are ordering extra inventory to meet the spike in demand.
“I think it’s going to be an 18-month process,” Finkelstein said.
Furniture and appliance stores have seen a sharp decline in sales since the housing market collapse in 2008. With fewer new homes being built, there has been less demand for new appliances.
Finkelstein said the storm has brought misery to the region, but is also helping put people back to work.
“You hate to be happy about it,” he said. “But we’ve been going through two years of struggling. I slashed all the expenses in my store just to keep the doors open. Now I’m looking to hire sales people.”
For those now looking for appliances, timing is in their favor at least. Black Friday sales have seeped into the appliance industry. Many retailers are slashing prices. And with rebates offered for some energy-efficient models, consumers can find good deals, said Jill Notini, spokeswoman fro the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers.
“Some programs offer bounties for older, nonworking units. That $30 or $50 could make a dent in a new purchase,” she said.
For example, New Jersey’s Office of Clean Energy offers a $50 rebate if you recycle your old refrigerator.
“Black Friday can be a great time to look for buys. And those sales can be coupled with those energy rebates,” she said.
Shoppers can look for other rebates available at energystar.gov. Click on “Rebate finder” under “Products.”
Stores as far away as Vineland are helping flood victims. At Appliances Plus, most of the recent customers are shore homeowners, said co-owner Sal Venuto, of Vineland.
Like Pleasantville, Vineland is an Urban Enterprise Zone that offers a reduced 3.5 percent sales tax. That adds up for big-ticket items such as appliances, Venuto said.
One of his investment properties in Ocean City was badly damaged by the storm, he said.
“We’ve been delivering to shore points every day,” he said. “Quite honestly, we don’t think the real demand has even started yet. People are in limbo waiting for insurance companies to get back to them.”
Venuto said he is expecting the first quarter of 2013 to be his store’s busiest. Since the national housing-market collapse, manufacturers have seen sharp cutbacks in orders.
“Our concern is there may be a regional shortage of appliances because of the storm,” he said. “We’re very concerned about not having enough inventory on hand as an industry.”
Even if some flooded appliances appear to be working now, that does not mean they were spared by the storm, he said.
“Any time saltwater comes in contact with electrical items, it’s not a good idea to continue to use them,” he said. “Even though the appliance works today, there’s a possibility because of corrosion from saltwater that it could fail and potentially start a fire.”
Contact Michael Miller: