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Each week, WFAE's "Morning Edition" hosts get a rundown of the biggest business and development stories from The Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter.

BizWorthy: Will New Curfew Restrictions On Restaurants And Retail Impact The Bottom Line?

social distance restaurant
Erin Keever

Restaurants and retail businesses in North Carolina face more coronavirus restrictions beginning Friday under a modified stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Roy Cooper this week. They'll have to close by 10 p.m. and restaurants must stop serving alcohol by 9 p.m. For more on the impact this could have on Charlotte businesses, we turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

BizWorthy logo

Marshall Terry: Tony, will this new round of restrictions make that much difference?

Tony Mecia: Well, Marshall, we're just really going to have to see. I mean, the governor at his press conference this week said that the idea is to try to chip away at this time, these late-night times when you have a bunch of people gathering. Maybe they're out late, maybe there's alcohol and they're getting close to each other and spreading the virus. He said to the extent you can kind of chip away at that time, that that'll be helpful in stopping the spread.

I do think public health experts in other states have wondered whether curfews really make that much of an effect. How much activity is really going on after 9, 10 o'clock? I think it's fair to say a fair number of people in Charlotte are in their pajamas getting ready to go to bed by that point.

Terry: As far as the bottom line goes for some of these places, I mean, how busy are restaurants anyway, past 10?

Mecia: Yeah, I don't really think they're that busy. You know, last call previously was at 11. Now it's moving to 9. A lot of places, they closed their kitchens at 10. I don't know that this is going to have a huge effect on restaurants, really.

I think the bigger thing for restaurants, Marshall, is that a lot of people are now not going out to restaurants as much with coronavirus spreading. You've seen this in some of the national data that Open Table, for example, collects. In Charlotte, those numbers are dropping, even though ordinarily before the holiday season would be a busy time for restaurants. It's more self-imposed, people not going out to restaurants for fear of catching coronavirus more than it is any government restrictions.

Terry: And as far as retailers having to shut by 10 p.m., I mean, are there retailers open past that time anyway?

Mecia: Yeah, I mean, you know, grocery stores. Walmart. So, any place that sells groceries is going to be allowed to remain open after 10 p.m. That's something that is considered essential. But kind of like restaurants, I don't know how many people are out shopping for groceries after 10, either. I wouldn't be surprised if you see some retailers start kind of moving that back and not staying open past 10, because I think the word that's going to get out is you can't be out after 10. So I don't know how many of these places are going to really see customers after 10 anyway.

Arrival headquarters
Courtesy City of Charlotte
Arrival's corporate headquarters in Charlotte.

Terry: Wednesday, the city of Charlotte announced British electric vehicle maker Arrival will set up its North American headquarters in the city and create 150 jobs. What can you tell us about this company?

Mecia: There's a lot of excitement about that this week from city officials. You know, obviously a clean energy company and it makes electric vehicles. They had announced earlier this year they were setting up what they're calling a "micro factory" in Rock Hill, which is a sort of small production line making electric buses, electric vans, that kind of thing. The company is based in London, founded in 2015. It's sort of a clean auto manufacturer, and that's something, I think, that's the kind of industry that Charlotte wants.

Terry: Is this the start of a new industry for Charlotte?

Mecia: I wouldn't go that far. I mean, Charlotte has always been pretty strong in attracting corporate headquarters. This is the North American headquarters of a London-based company. So it sort of continues in that streak of getting corporate headquarters. I don't know that I would say that we should expect a whole bunch of auto manufacturers to move to Charlotte. But, yeah, I mean, it's really more of a corporate headquarters "get" than it is any great sea change in terms of auto manufacturing.

Terry: It's been about two weeks since Black Friday, which is traditionally seen as the start of the holiday shopping season. According to data that you got ahold of, foot traffic at Charlotte malls was down this Black Friday by 50% over last year. I guess no real surprise there, right?

Mecia: We all probably sense that fewer people are going out shopping in shopping malls. But we got ahold of some cell phone location data, which is, I guess, a little bit scary that that sort of data exists and is on the market. But it basically said that the big malls in the Charlotte area that on Black Friday, the foot traffic was down about 50%. It recovered a little bit on the Saturday and Sunday of that big shopping weekend, was down 30, 40%. And that's a little bit more in line with what we've seen in the last few months locally in Charlotte as far as the number of people going into these big malls.

Terry: But you also report that the drop in foot traffic, it doesn't necessarily mean a drop in sales. How's that?

Mecia: One of the things that retailers have seen, you know, since the start of the pandemic, Marshall, is that when customers go out and shop, they tend to buy more per trip. Retailers of all kinds have seen it. I guess it sort of makes sense that if you're going out, you're going to make that trip worth your while. You know, at the same time, Marshall, we're seeing a big increase in online sales. The National Retail Federation before Thanksgiving came out with a report forecasting that online sales for the holiday season were going to be up about 20 to 30%.

Terry: Thanks, Tony.

Mecia: Thanks, Marshall.

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