Fashion retailers are braced for a prolonged loss of trade after some of the worst flooding for 60 years.
Last weekend's floods in central and southern England quashed any hope of recovery from a tough summer season, with retailers having battled bad weather since May.
The worst affected areas were Gloucestershire, Worcestershire, Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, Buckinghamshire and West Berkshire. Towns including Upton-upon-Severn, Tewkesbury, Cheltenham and Evesham were badly hit.
Emergency services have said it could be two weeks before some areas get back to normal, meaning footfall at high street retailers is likely to suffer severely.
The floods have struck multiples and independents alike. New Look's buying, merchandising and design director Paul Marchant said that 36 of the group's stores had been affected, and two of its stores were still closed as Drapers went to press.
Sportswear etailer M and M Direct, based in Leominster in Herefordshire, contacted customers to say it had closed its call centre and website because of "serious flooding". It hoped to be fully operational again in the next few days, but has suffered about £2m worth of damage to stock and premises.
Value retailer Bonmarche closed eight stores last weekend. All were trading again by Tuesday, but the retailer estimated that footfall was down by about 35% in some areas.
The boss of one menswear multiple told Drapers: "We had water damage in seven stores, which have closed. We are looking at a lot of lost sales, so are trying to hack the price of our summer stock as aggressively as we can to get it out of the store."
Multiples in London fared little better. A flood at Hobbs' distribution centre at Park Royal in west London caused up to £10,000 worth of damage to stock. Trading also slumped. Chief executive Nick Samuel said he was not surprised to see footfall drop 35% in Cheltenham, but London's South Molton Street store also suffered, with 8% fewer people out shopping on Saturday.
The experience of womenswear independent Roman Originals in Evesham, Worcestershire, is typical of what many flood-hit indies are experiencing. The store was forced to shut early last Saturday after taking just £50, when it would normally take £2,000 on a Saturday.
Katie Campbell, owner of accessories shop Frankie Doodle in Chipping Campden, Gloucestershire, had to shut after 10 weeks' worth of rain fell during several hours last Friday. She said: "It has probably ended the summer for a lot of retailers."
The Met Office has forecast more bad weather in the next two weeks.
THE FLOOD EFFECT
UK shopping centre footfall on July 20-22 2007, compared with July 21-23 2006