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Opinion: Skyrocketing COVID-19 cases having impact on Burnaby shopping malls

More restrictions and more cases
metropolis mall
An empty time of day at Metropolis at Metrotown.

The eye test can reveal a lot of things.

For example, new COVID-19 restrictions and messaging from public health officials as the number of new infections in Metro Vancouver and in the rest of B.C. exploded in recent weeks are having an impact on Burnaby shoppers.

During the past week, I have made repeated visits to several local malls and my eye test tells me that traffic is way down from just a few weeks ago.

I was forced to go to the Apple store for a phone crisis and Metropolis at Metrotown was pretty empty. Yes, it was during the day on a weekday, but I’ve been there plenty of times during the same kind of hours during the past few months and it’s been packed with people. The weekends are definitely seeing more people visiting local malls like Brentwood and Lougheed, but the weekdays sure seem like they've seen a big drop.

There looks to be a distinct drop-off as more people stay home as COVID-19 cases have risen to more than 1,000 per day.

That’s bad news for stores, but it feels inevitable as people take extra precautions.

Statistics Canada said recently that retail sales fell 1.1 per cent to $52.5 billion for the first month of the year. Sales at clothing and clothing accessories stores dropped 17.8 per cent and furniture and home furnishings stores lost 15.1 per cent. Sales at sporting goods, hobby, book and music stores fell 16.8 per cent.

Retailers are reeling in many areas of the country as more restrictions are added and health officials urge people to stay home.

But there is a little good news.

The Retail Council of Canada (RCC) actually commended the federal government for its “recognition of the financial and operational challenges faced by retailers during the pandemic and in the forthcoming recovery period. RCC has advocated for the extension of the main business support programs CEWS and CERS and we are pleased to see those programs extended until September 25, 2021, but take note of declining support levels, especially during the last four weeks of those programs. The new Canada Recovery Hiring Program (CHRP) will help retailers who are planning on expanding their workforces and increasing hours, which makes sense for most during a recovery period. We understand that the government wants to transition workers back into the economy and away from income support programs under EI and CRB and to have businesses build up their workforces. Our caveat is that the pandemic has had differing effects across our sector, with some merchants seeing far deeper reductions in revenues, and thereby, requiring longer than others to recover.  RCC recommends that the CEWS and CERS supports may need to remain in place longer for those most adversely affected.”

Metropolis is seeing some new store openings happening, with the opening of Premier Brow Bar and Meeku. Forever 21 is also getting ready to open a new store. Hugo Boss has also opened a brick-and-mortar location in Metropolis.