CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - It’s no secret that businesses have suffered as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, but a new report from the Free Enterprise Forum is putting just how much into perspective.
While the year started with growth across central Virginia, in March and April many areas like Charlottesville saw a dramatic decline, and a difference of tens of millions of dollars compared to last year.
The Free Enterprise Forum’s Retail Report was compiled by looking at how much of the “local option,” sales tax revenue was returned by the state to the localities where the sales took place. That paints a picture of just how much money was being spent in a given county or city during a given month.
“That creates a metric that is incredibly helpful to understanding the retail activity,” Free Enterprise Forum Executive Director Neil Williamson said.
Comparing the sales to last year’s figures, Charlottesville, Albemarle County, and Waynesboro saw growth to start the year. Then, the states suffered a rapid compression in retail sales in March, as coronavirus restrictions were put into place. The decline only worsened in April, as “shelter at home,” orders continued.
“During this time frame, what we saw in Charlottesville in Albemarle for the 30 days of April - we saw a loss of 22.49% total sales, retail sales decrease,” Williamson explained. “When you map it out, (that’s) $56.29 million.”
That’s not surprising to Charlottesville businesses. Charlottesville Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Elizabeth Cromwell says that it falls in line with things she’s been hearing from business owners and chamber members for months.
“I think that the hospitality and tourism piece is huge for this community,” Cromwell said. “I think we’re seeing a lot of pain there.”
While urban centers saw declines, other areas saw growth. Greene County saw sales increase by more than $200,000, even as the pandemic heightened.
“April’s numbers are 11.5% higher over 2019,” Williamson explained.
That’s something the report attributes to commuters. With more workers staying at home, and not commuting to Charlottesville for example, that meant more money spent where they live, as opposed to where they work.
While easing restrictions means back to business as almost usual for retailers around central Virginia, the Forum says that following health guidelines is the only way business can stay open. The chamber says that’s going to be best for all retailers, large and small, even if it means more work to comply now.
“Opening and closing vacillation I think is the worst possible thing that can happen to our businesses,” Cromwell said. “So what I hear from them is, ‘We don’t want to rush.‘”
“Please follow the guidelines that have been established by the businesses,” Williamson adds. “It’s critically important to everyone’s health.”
The Free Enterprise Forum says that it is tracking these trends as we move forward into the second quarter, but says that things are likely to improve for retailers moving forward both as people return to stores and commuters begin to return to work.