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Report Shows Decline Of Region’s Retail Sector

A recent report confirms what many already knew from empty storefronts and job counts – the region’s retail sector has taken a beating for more than a decade.

The study by Upgraded Points shows that between 2011 and 2021, the Jamestown-Dunkirk-Fredonia metro area experienced a 10.8% decline in the number of brick-and-mortar retail stores per capita The decline left 3.3 brick-and-mortar retail stores for every 1,000 Jamestown-Dunkirk-Fredonia residents.

That news, while startling, could be worse. The 10.8% decline in the number of retail stores in the county is less than the decline in brick-and-mortar retail across the nation (12.6%), though the Jamestown-Dunkirk-Fredonia metro area’s retail decline is 1.2% steeper than that seen in Rochester and 1.8% steeper than that seen in Buffalo.

Between 2011 and 2021 (the latest 10-year period with available data from the U.S. Census Bureau), the U.S. lost 60,000 retail stores, marking a 12.6% decline in stores per capita.

The National Retail Federation is projecting holiday spending is expected to reach record levels during November and December, growing between 2% and 4% compared to 2022 to between $957.3 billion and $966.6 billion.

“It is not surprising to see holiday sales growth returning to pre-pandemic levels,” NRF President and CEO Matthew Shay said. “Overall household finances remain in good shape and will continue to support the consumer’s ability to spend.”

But the spending growth isn’t necessarily reaching brick-and-mortar stores as online shopping continues to make things tougher for retail stores. For every Target, Runnings or Ollie’s added to the local retail mix, the county loses a Bon Ton, Sears, K-Mart or Sam’s Club. According to the Quarterly Census of Employment and Wages on the state Labor Department’s website, retail trade in Chautauqua County has shrunk from 515 establishments and 6,664 workers in 2012 to 428 establishments and 5,759 workers in 2022. While the biggest decrease in in employment came during the pandemic year of 2020 (380 employees) the biggest loss of businesses came from 2015 to 2016, when 34 businesses closed, with the decline in establishments decreasing by between five and 10 a year from 2015 to 2022. Employment dropped by 237 in 2017 and 217 in 2018 before the pandemic drop in 2020 of 380 positions. The sector hasn’t yet recovered all of those positions, adding 176 in 2021 nad losing 27 in 2022.

From 2000 to 2019, e-commerce grew from .9% of all retail sales to 10.6%. And with many physical retail stores closing or experiencing lower traffic in the wake of COVID-19, online sales jumped again to 14.6% in 2020 and have not fallen off since, according to the Upgraded Points study..

“However, the overall strength of consumer spending obscures how trends in retail have shifted over time, often creating challenges for local stores,” the Upgraded Points study states. “The pandemic played a part in accelerating a major trend that has impacted the sector in recent years: the growing shift toward e-commerce and the decline of brick-and-mortar retail.”

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