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BizWorthy: Coronavirus Is Impacting Back-To-School Purchases


With the start of school just a few weeks away, it's time for back-to-school shopping. Usually that means getting new clothes, backpacks, notebooks and pencils. But there are some big changes this year in what parents are buying as students prepare to learn remotely because of the coronavirus.

For more, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

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Marshall Terry: Tony, you spoke with a national retail consultant who's based in Charlotte about the shift in spending this back-to-school season. What did you find out? 

Tony Mecia: Right, Marshall. You know, usually, like you mentioned, back-to-school means people going to the malls, getting new shoes, sneakers for the kids, backpacks, binders. A lot of that spending has shifted online. And it's not going as much toward clothes as it is towards electronics. And it as it is toward tutoring and educational services. So there's really this this big shift. And ordinarily you'd see big retail purchases in clothing this time of year. It's really kind of moving in a different direction.

Terry: Are tutoring businesses is about to take off?

Mecia: Oh, I think so. Definitely. I mean, since CMS came out last week and said that students are pretty much not going to be in class, a lot of parents are pretty concerned about that and they're looking to hire tutors. You see all the Facebook groups sort of lit up with people looking for tutors and people looking for teachers to hire to either help with the virtual learning or to sort of supplement what's going to be going on with the virtual learning. So that's definitely, I think, a big spending category.

One of the things that was a little bit surprising, Marshall, about this was that a lot of the spending, the back-to-school spending by parents is pretty much held up. A lot of it is not going away. A lot of times you would think during a recession or during an economic downturn, you're going to see a decrease in spending. But the back-to-school spending has pretty much stayed steady. It's just that where that money is being spent has shifted.

Terry: In a joint proclamation, Mecklenburg County, Charlotte, Davidson, Pineville, Matthews and Mint Hill have banned restaurants that serve food and alcohol from serving on-site after 11 p.m. in an effort to slow the spread of the virus. Do restaurants stay open that late, anyway?

Mecia: Well, some of them do. You know, Marshall a lot of them close their kitchens that at 10 or 11. This new regulation coming out from a county and a lot of the towns and Charlotte is really aimed at a very specific subset of restaurants that basically convert to bars after 11 o'clock. And they're worried about young people kind of coming in and crowding in after 11 and drinking.

So that doesn't really affect all that many restaurants. It doesn't really affect the breweries, which pretty much all the breweries close around 10 or 11, anyway. But it's just a certain number of restaurants that basically kind of convert to bars, late-night. And so they're worried about the spread of coronavirus and too many people congregating in these restaurants.

Terry: Now, this change does not affect restaurants in Huntersville and Cornelius. Why is that?

Mecia: Well, in order for the county to put through these new regulations, they need the consent of the towns. And so Huntersville and Cornelius did not agree to go along with it. They say that the governor's regulations, as they're out there right now, that those seem to be working fine. As a practical matter, I don't know how many places in Huntersville and Cornelius are open after 11 anyway, Marshall.

Terry: And finally, how how long is this change going to last?

Mecia: It's a proclamation that goes through Aug. 7. Now, it's always subject to renewal. I think it's going to depend a little bit on where the numbers are, in terms of the number of cases and the number of hospitalizations, that sort of thing. They're constantly reevaluating these regulations and trying to see what they can do to help stop the spread of the virus.

Terry: More businesses are now requiring masks. Requirements went into effect this week for customers of Harris Teeter, Home Depot, Walmart and CVS, to name a few. There's been a statewide mask requirement in effect in North Carolina for about a month now. So, why haven't these businesses been enforcing it?

Mecia: Well, it's a little tricky for businesses because a lot of them do not want to be in the business of confronting these customers. You've seen incidents in other areas of the country where things have gotten pretty ugly. And, you know, part of it is if you're a customer and you go in and you're not wearing a mask, that can be OK. If you have a medical condition, there are some exceptions to actually wearing the mask. So, businesses a lot of times don't want to be in that position of having to adjudicate whether their customer has a certain medical condition that will allow them to have an exemption. So it can be a little uncomfortable for businesses.

The governor did come out this week and said, hey, listen, you know, if you're not going to wear a mask, you shouldn't go into these stores. Do take-out. Order online. You have other options. So, you know, it can be a tricky thing for businesses.

Terry: For some of these businesses, as you said, who don't want to be confrontational, what are they going to do now that they've implemented these requirements?

Mecia: I think that if you look closely at those requirements, they say that that's the rule. I don't know that how many of them are actually calling out customers who don't come in with masks.

So, I mean, every place is handling it differently. Some are handing out masks. Some say you need to bring your own masks. Maybe there are some that are turning people away. But, you know, it can be it can be very tricky.

Terry: Well, I want to end on a non-coronavirus note. I'm hearing that there is a Krispy Kreme vending machine coming to Charlotte. What can you tell me about that?

Mecia: All right, Marshall. Charlotte Agenda reported this week that the Krispy Kreme office in South End, that the test kitchen associated with that, is gonna be opening soon. And part of that test kitchen includes a vending machine. People can just go up, put money in and try some of the different kinds of donuts that they're devising there in South End.

Terry: What are they going to think of next? Thanks, Tony.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall. 

        View this post on Instagram                   @krispykreme’s new test kitchen is opening soon in South End, and it’ll have a donut vending machine. TEST KITCHEN: At the new 4,500-square-foot retail space, customers can test limited edition donuts and even offer feedback on recipes. The space is attached to the company’s sleek corporate office, which opened last summer in a renovated warehouse. A post shared by Charlotte Agenda (@charlotteagenda) on Jul 17, 2020 at 5:36am PDT

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