Smaller retailers among coronavirus' NC victims

Posted May 19, 2020 4:41 p.m. EDT
Updated May 19, 2020 7:46 p.m. EDT

— Even as North Carolina continues to relax its stay-at-home restrictions and allow more businesses to reopen during the coronavirus pandemic, some retailers have chosen to close up shop for good.

While large retailers like JCPenney simply file for bankruptcy or close some of their locations to survive the economic crisis the pandemic has created, the situation is more dire for smaller chains and mom-and-pop shops,

"Small businesses operate on very small cushions. They don’t have a lot of money in the bank to carry them through," North Carolina State University economist Mike Walden said. "Even if they got a Payroll Protection [Program] loan, that may not be enough to carry them through for however many months it's going to take for the economy to get back to some sense of normalcy."

Omega Sports hasn't reopened almost half of it 12 locations in North Carolina – a store at Cary Crossroads is among the casualties, with its inventory cleared out. A company spokesman said the future of the closed stores remains uncertain but noted that the chain's online sales have soared by 300 to 400 percent during the pandemic.

Walden said the convenience of online shopping and delivery has been accentuated during the pandemic by the safety element of not having to venture out to stores. He predicted 10 to 15 percent of retail stores won't survive.

"Consumers are going to take time to come back. They're going to have to overcome fear," he said.

Katherine Herring, owner of Releve Dancewear in Cary, said she is doing everything she can to keep her 14-year-old business afloat.

"[We're] just doing the best we can. We've applied for the PPP loan and are very hopeful that we'll be getting that soon," Herring said.

Releve usually relies on dance classes, competitions and recitals to fuel sales, but all of those activities have been canceled during the pandemic. Sales are off by about 85 percent, she said.

To boost revenue, Herring said she’s been creating items for home dance studios, including ballet bars and dance floors, and even sells masks and sanitizer.

"[We're] carefully spending, doing a lot of promotions for our customers, being very aggressive online," she said. "I think that we will survive. We're a specialty store, and we have loyal customers."

Walden said the economy will bounce back, but it will be a slow process.

"We're going to be living with the remnants of this virus and this pandemic and this shutdown for probably a year. I would not be surprised to see unemployment in North Carolina still hovering around 10 percent next year," he said. "I'm looking for the end of 2021 for even approaching the economic numbers that we had earlier this year."

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