BizWorthy: Retailers Face Many Challenges In Preparing To Reopen In NC

May 7, 2020

North Carolina will gradually start to reopen Friday at 5 p.m. That’s when Phase 1 of Gov. Roy Cooper’s three-phase plan to reopen the state takes effect. Most retailers will be allowed to reopen. But they must limit the number of customers inside and also implement social distancing measures

The clothing store Vestique in Charlotte’s Dilworth neighborhood plans to reopen. Store manager Jacie Harris says there will be a lot of cleaning.

“A lot of Lysol, a lot of just wiping everything down after every single person comes in,” Harris said. “Just monitoring like how many people are in the store and how many people are close to each other at a time.”

For more on how Charlotte businesses are preparing, we now turn to Tony Mecia of the Charlotte Ledger Business Newsletter for our segment BizWorthy.

Marshall Terry: So that's one business, Tony. What are you hearing from others?

Tony Mecia: Yeah, Marshall, I've talked to a few of our business owners in the Charlotte area in the last few days, and a lot of them, I think, are feeling that they're sort of overloaded with information. There's a lot to do kind of all at once. I mean, the cleaning, as you mentioned, but there are some other things related to how they call back workers, how they deal with sick workers. Do they have to screen their workers now for illness. What sort of barriers do they put in the by the cash registers? What sort of signs do they need in the store?

There are a number of logistical issues that a lot of these retailers are having to sort of figure out on the fly, and they're just feeling, I think, there's a lot of information. So, they're try to process how they get all these things done and what exactly the new rules are. This is all sort of coming at them fairly quickly.

Terry: And I imagine all those things that you just mentioned, it's easier for some businesses to implement them than it is for others to do it. So, will that keep some places closed?

Mecia: It could. Each business is different. And, you know, we think a lot of stores and you know, when you walk into a store, what's it going to look like? But there a lot of businesses, you know, that are not retail stores that are having to sort of figure out, "OK. How close to can workers be together and do they need to wear masks?"

And so I do think, some of them, it's possible that they might opt to stay closed a little bit longer to take some time to figure it out and do it right and make sure that their customers feel as though they're entering into a safe environment. You know, I think some will probably take some time to get it right. Others are just very urgently trying to open as soon as they can.

North Carolinians in need of haircuts will have to wait a while longer or try their best to do it themselves.
Credit Edgar Chaparro / Unsplash

Terry: So, this is Phase 1. Barbershops and salons are among the businesses that are not included in Phase 1. Those will remain closed. So, when will I be able to go get a haircut?

Mecia: Well, barbershops and hair salons, gyms, some of these other businesses where there's a little bit more personal contact. Those are part of what the governor outlined as being in Phase 2. That could start as early as May 22.

It's going to depend on how the state numbers are looking in a couple of weeks. But I think the thinking is, certainly by the end of the month, if people ... need to get their roots done or need to get that haircut that they haven't had now for six weeks, that they could potentially do that by the end of the month. You know, the other options, you see a lot online about sort of the do-it-yourself haircuts and all that. So, I don't know if that's an option for you, Marshall.

Terry: Oh, no, I'm not going anywhere near my hair with scissors. That would be a disaster. How about you?

Mecia: I think I can wait it out.

Terry: You've mentioned before in some of our past conversations that customers still may not be ready to come out even when businesses reopen. Are businesses weighing the cost of reopening against the possibility that they'll get little or no business?

Mecia: Yeah, and it's really going to be different for each individual business. Every business is having to make separate calculations, and I do think there is a sentiment — a pretty widespread sentiment — that people are not ready to rush out and go to a lot of these places.

Now, a lot of people are. A lot of people do want to get out of the house and go shop and go do things again. But there's a sizeable number of people, you know, surveys have shown, that are going to just be kind of taking it slowly — take it one step at a time, see how it plays out. And they're in no rush to get back out there. So, I think that can be a little bit of a challenge for businesses.

Terry: How many businesses and employees does the reopening affect in Charlotte and also in North Carolina?

Mecia: Well, it's hard to know precise numbers. Marshall. I talked to the North Carolina Retail Merchants Association. They said there's no real great number out there. It's a little bit hard to calculate. Now, the National Retail Federation estimated a few years ago that there about 116,000 retailers in North Carolina. Some estimates suggest that about half of those have been closed.

So, you're talking about potentially tens of thousands of businesses now that will be able to reopen. We're talking about things like toy stores, we're talking about clothing stores, you know, any number of retailers that have been closed for the last few weeks that are now going to be able to open.

Terry: And just for some context there, the number of unemployment claims in North Carolina since mid-March topped 1 million this week, with most of them related to COVID-19.

Mecia: That's a really big number because the entire workforce in North Carolina is only about 5 million. So, you're talking about 20% of the state's workforce filing for unemployment claims, which is a staggering, staggering percentage.

Terry: Finally, clothing retailer J. Crew, which has locations in Charlotte and elsewhere in the Carolinas, filed for bankruptcy this week, citing the pandemic. It's the first major national retailer to do so. Is this just the beginning?

Mecia: In one sense, Marshall, it's just the beginning. I mean, it's the beginning of bankruptcies after the pandemic. But, you know, national retailers have been hurting for a number of years. They've been struggling with this, trying to adapt to online sales really shifting the landscape in retail. And so, I mean, we've seen bankruptcies even before the pandemic. You had Pier 1, Destination Maternity, Sears. There's any number of big retailers that have filed for bankruptcy in the last few years, even before the pandemic. But I think now, the financial pressures that you're going to see on some of these retailers is immense, and I think you're going to see more of these.