U.S. retail sales were expected to reach $5.94 trillion by 2024, but new coronavirus estimates anticipate retail sales to decline by $4.89 trillion, leaving many retail service employees jobless.

Macy’s is set to close 125 stores over the next three years, including one in The Centre at Salisbury in Maryland. Across the country, Stein Mart, a clothing discount store, is closing all 279 stores, including five in Hampton Roads.

But closures are not limited to big box stores. Smaller retailers, including shoe stores, are also feeling the squeeze. In Virginia, Aldo, a popular footwear and accessories company founded by Aldo Bensadoun, is one of the latest companies expected to close all of its stores in the state, hoping to shift customers to its online site. DSW is also reevaluating its physical footprint after net sales declined by 44.7% to $482.8 million for the first quarter.

With a record number of 630,000 retail outlet store closures due to the coronavirus, shopping as we know it will never be the same. It may be the end of Victor Gruen’s shopping mall. Known as the “King of Retail,” Victor Gruen was an Austrian-Jewish architect who came to the U.S. in 1938 with “$8 and no English.” He modeled the shopping center after the Greek agora: a community space where people could meet, shop, and exchange ideas.

As the U.S. suburbs expanded due to white flight and urban sprawl, malls sprung up across the country following the first debut of the shopping center project, Southdale Mall in Edna, Minnesota, in 1954. No longer restricted by the elements in these temperature-controlled environments, people could shop in style and comfort. However, the global pandemic has many avoiding the malls and preferring instead to shop online in the comfort and safety of their own homes.

Before COVID-19, more than one in four U.S. jobs were supported by the retail industry, according to the National Retail Federation. That made the retail industry the largest private-sector employer in the country. In 2018, retailers provided more than 4.8 million jobs with a median pay of $12.23 per hour in 2019. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 15.7 million people were employed by retailers in February 2020. As the coronavirus hit, retail jobs dropped by 2.4 million in March and April, leaving 1.9 million store-based workers unemployed.

As COVID-19 cases surpass summer highs, many retail employees are left searching for other opportunities to weather the pandemic.

At Aldo, one retail worker in Virginia, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said, “People aren’t shopping like they say they do. So, I’m not just going to wait for Aldo to go out of business. I’m already looking for other opportunities.”

With the coronavirus reaching unforeseen highs, there may not be many other options. One thing is certain — as the holiday season approaches, the traditional shopping experience, whether in person or online, won’t be the same.

WI Guest Author

This correspondent is a guest contributor to The Washington Informer.

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