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Pandemic forces small Delaware retailers to pivot to survive

From Delaware Business Times

Delaware’s downtown districts strived to rebrand themselves as the place for one-of-a-kind shopping and community experience, but the COVID-19 pandemic has forced dramatic change in the independent retail business model.

For decades, big box stores have been slowly taking market share from small businesses in designated commerce areas like Downtown Districts or Main Streets. Independent stores see less than a quarter of all retail shopping today compared to about half of sales in the 1980s, according to a study completed by the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. But gradually, Main Street Inc. programs and other grassroots efforts have led the way to preserve and revitalize historic commerce corridors.

Nationwide retail and restaurant spending totaled $526.1 billion in August, an increase of 0.6% from the previous month, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Spending has been steadily growing over the past four months, but that may falter now that extra federal unemployment benefits have lessened. Clothing and accessory sales skyrocketed 105% in June versus May, when shutdown orders were starting to lift, but now customers have tightened their purse strings again.

Through the pandemic, big-box stores stood to profit more than smaller, independent stores. Giants like Walmart and Target that offer groceries remained open for one-stop shopping in the early days of the crisis while Main Street businesses were not categorized as essential services.

“I hate to see a small business close,” said Jenn Marsh, the owner of Stubborn Soul Boutique in Middletown. “It’s a scary time for sure, and with the overhead with brick and mortar, sometimes I wonder if we would have made it this far. The challenge with Amazon and Walmart is that we’re not them, and we’ll never be them. We have to find another way.”

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