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Coronavirus In Ohio: Holiday Shopping Looks Different This Year

Easton Town Center reopened on May 12, although some stores are still closed.
David Holm
Easton Town Center reopened on May 12 after being closed for several months.

Black Friday is here, but it's looking a lot different this year. Long lines and crowded stores are no longer allowed under Ohio’s coronavirus prevention restrictions.

That means retailers in Ohio – big box retailers and small shops alike – will have to change the way they do business ahead of Christmas.

Sean Casey, manager of the Mutts & Co. pet shop in suburban Columbus, says Black Friday turned into a week-long sale this year to alleviate crowding in their store. And they're offering more COVID-safe services to customers.

“The in-store pickup, we can do it as a curbside and have absolutely no contact," Casey says. "Also our delivery – we will bring it right to your front door, knock on your door and leave it on your porch so we have no contact options. And those are absolutely going to be included with our deals as well."

Casey’s store isn’t the only one that is advertising sales early and offering special COVID-safe services. Andy Doehrel, CEO of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, says the pandemic has made that a necessity.

“It’s cut down on traffic considerably as people have stayed home and shopped online instead of going out to their local retail store," Doehrel says.

Ohio State University marketing department chair Joe Goodman says retailers often depend on the sales between Thanksgiving and Christmas to turn a profit.

“Yeah, absolutely, there's probably 20-30% of sales, depending on the sector, are generated in the six-to-eight week period, and those dollars are going to carry them through January, February, March, which most retailers are going to lose money," Goodman says.

But this year, with new safe distancing and mask protocols, retailers might not be able to make as much as they are used to during the holiday season. Ohio Wesleyan University economics professor Bob Gitter says retailers are limited right now.

“I'm not sure there's much of anything they can do. They can do a few things at the edges, you know, they can make sure that people observe the masks mask ordinance so that they don't get shut down per Gov.

DeWine's recent order, if they possibly can," Gitter says. "If they can have an online presence, you know, that will help. Before things turned really sour in the last few weeks, in terms of COVID, I saw that they were projecting a 5% decline in retail sales and brick and mortar stores, and about a 35% increase in online sales."

Frances Jo Hamilton is director of revitalization for Heritage Ohio, which promotes economic development in historic downtown districts. She says some small businesses throughout the state have made the shift to take advantage of online sales. For others, though, it’s not as easy.

“We're trying to promote as much as we can to buy gift certificates to that kind of shopping at your local small businesses, mom-and-pops, you know, anything that gets some money in the coffers for them is going to be really helpful during this season," Hamilton says. "And I know it's so super easy to just log in and do your shopping on Amazon. But, you know, I think we're just trying to inspire people to their local businesses, especially right now."

Retailers in Ohio, like Casey, know the cards are stacked against them this year.

“Our season is going to be what we can make it, and we’re going to do our best with the cards that we are given," Casey says.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment.