Although stores and malls have reopened, the road to recovery for retail businesses may be a slow and difficult slog as the coronavirus pandemic continues to cloud shopper sentiment.
If George Norman, a Huntington Station resident, is any indication, that road is long, winding and absent a horizon.
“I drive all day. I’m out here constantly,” said Norman, 53, who drives a tractor trailer. “A lot of people, they don’t want to wear a mask; they don’t want to socially distance. I see people at eateries. They are shoulder-to-shoulder, eating and drinking as if nothing’s wrong or nothing ever happened. They act like everything is fine, and it’s not. This could go the other way very easily. … I’m not comfortable with it [shopping indoors or going to a mall] at all.”
The unemployment rate for retail, which is among the hardest-hit industries, soared to nearly 19% nationwide in April and only came down to 12% in June, still significantly higher than the pre-pandemic 5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Experts say Long Island’s economy will continue to be battered until the retail sector, which in 2018 employed 161,500 people, recovers.
Though it's unclear when that will be, the question remains: Will Long Islanders feel comfortable returning to shopping malls and other retail pursuits?
“When the retail sector hurts, that has a compounding effect through the rest of the economy,” said Rakesh Gupta, associate professor of decision sciences and marketing at Adelphi University in Garden City. “When a person in retail is unemployed, they are not having any income, and if they don’t have income, they can’t spend. One way to think of it is, if the retail sector is doing well, then the economy is doing well.”
While experts said they don’t expect the industry to take eight years — as was the case after the Great Recession from 2007 to 2009 — to recover lost jobs, they said a full recovery may not arrive until 2022.
“Reopening is a balancing act,” said John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association. “To get back to pre-pandemic levels, we are probably looking at the second half of 2021 or [early] 2022.”
As health concerns linger, only half of 1,000 Americans who responded to a Deloitte survey last week said they feel safe going to stores.
“The young people will probably turn out,” Gupta said. “But the seniors have more disposable income. They are not spending, and they are not going to show up.”
Other surveys show that the economic fallout of the outbreak has modified consumer behavior toward spending, with families tightening their budget belts in the face of uncertainty.
More than one-third of 2,006 respondents said they’ve become more mindful of where they spend money and are switching to less-expensive products to save money, according to surveys conducted in mid-June by McKinsey & Company, a consulting firm that tracks consumer sentiments globally.
Long Islanders told Newsday where they stand on returning to malls and other stores, or not:
Nishoba Snow, 28, Hempstead
“I rely a lot on the mall [as someone who works at the mall and is a wardrobe stylist]. … I like to shop. It’s part of what I do. It’s part of my routine. I personally like going in the stores, looking at what I can choose from as opposed to scrolling online. But I don’t feel comfortable shopping as of yet. I just don’t because I don’t know where everybody has been.”
Beth Pesso, 54, Melville
“As long as when I go and I find everybody is wearing a mask and doing the right thing, I would definitely not have a problem with it. I don’t think I would spend as much time shopping as I normally would. But if there are things I needed, I would go in and get what I needed.”
Noelle Hear, 16, Montauk
“I’m young. If I get the coronavirus, I feel like it wouldn’t necessarily be as bad for me, as it’s more of a precaution for my parents and the elderly in the community that I don’t want to harm. But going with masks, not touching anything unless you are going to buy it and [washing] it as soon as I get home … I’m definitely pretty comfortable [with it].”
Alan Reff, 88, East Williston
“Not at this time. I realize they are opening, but I want everything to settle down for a minimum of two weeks before I participate. … I’m still suspicious about the overall situation. As an 88-year-old man, I feel vulnerable to COVID-19. And why should I put myself in any position that might result in some negative consequences?”
Dr. Asif Noor, 37, Garden City
“I do feel comfortable shopping. … The good thing is these stores, even the separate retailers or the malls, have very clear instructions from the state. So if you look at the floor, there are signs and stickers [to tell you] what’s a safe distance. So you can just follow those signs and rules.”
Janice Jackson, 59, Wyandanch
“You just wear your mask. … You cover up, they cover up, and you feel a little bit more comfortable. … If you wish, you wear your gloves. I’m fine about that.”
Bill Green, 70, Huntington
“I think we still all have to remain somewhat vigilant. We have the opportunity to do that. Unless it’s really necessary, I wouldn’t just run off and go shopping. I just wouldn’t do it.”
Dr. Shaheda Quraishi, 42, Roslyn
“I think, mentally, psychologically, it would be good for people to go out into the community and do more of their normal activities. We’ve been going to the grocery stores, and we’ve been going to the pharmacies. Most people are sort of well-versed on how to maintain their safety when they are out and about. I think we should do well as long as we continue to follow those guidelines.”
Roy Kirton, 69, Bay Shore
“I would never go to the mall again. … Whatever I need, I get [it] online now.”
Linda Sau, early 60s, Huntington
“I haven’t needed anything. Personally, I think I would feel fine going into a retail store that’s not too crowded, and especially if everyone’s wearing a mask.”
Ariana Sanichara, 17, Hempstead
“As soon as it opens, I’m ready. … I hate buying online because what if you buy it and it turns out not to be your size or it fits weirdly on you?”
Bernice Sims, in her 60s, Mineola
“I’m a senior. So I have been very careful in terms of where I go and how I expose myself in larger groups. At this point in time, I don’t particularly feel comfortable going into a mall.”