May retail sales reflect pent-up demand while counties struggle to open

Jun 18, 2020
Written by Renée Sunde, President & CEO

Although it still feels like spring in Washington, summer is just around the corner. As warmer weather approaches, life is slowly returning to normal as the WR team has returned to the office after working remotely for the past two months.

Retailers across the state are safely welcoming customers back inside their stores and recent reports indicate May retail sales rose dramatically as retailers and other businesses closed by the coronavirus pandemic began reopening. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, retail sales during May were up 17.7% seasonally adjusted from April but were down 6.1% year-over-year. This all follows a record-setting 14.7% month-over-month drop in April.

Pretty much every category of retail saw month-over-month gains with clothing stores leading the gains with a 188% increase. Furniture stores rose 89.7% and sporting goods were up 88.2%. Pent-up demand is driving much of the gains as retail categories that were mostly closed over the past few months are seeing the largest gains.

Although sales are up, numbers don’t reflect the same economy that we were enjoying before the pandemic. Our biggest concern now is ensuring that retailers can stay open and that we do not penalize small business again, in the event of another surge.

While a majority of counties in Washington are operating in Phase 2 or 3 of retail reopening, we continue to work with a handful of regions as they strive to drive down infection rates. Yakima, Benton and Franklin counties are currently open to Phase 1 curb-side retail only. These counties all share agriculture as a primary industry that has allowed employees to maintain their status as essential employees.

Unfortunately, the environment has created a hot bed of outbreaks throughout the industry. Long-term care facilities are also of particular concern by spreading the virus through steady contact.

The WR team has been working closely to support our leaders in Yakima County including Mayor Byers, Commissioner Baker and Yakima Development Council Executive Director, Jonathan Smith with their newly launched “Mask Up” campaign. On Tuesday, Governor Inslee traveled to Yakima to speak with local leaders about the challenges facing their community.

Each day a small business is forced to close their doors is another day closer to their demise. Each and every business is essential to the families, customers and communities they serve. WR will continue to partner with retailers in communities throughout Washington state to support employees and customers for a safe and steady reopening of our economy.