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Coronavirus: The Future Of American Retail

The scene on a street in downtown Culpeper, Virginia.
The scene on a street in downtown Culpeper, Virginia.

Walk down the streets of Washington D.C. these days, and you might notice the sidewalks are more like a wasteland than a cityscape. 

Shops are closed. Restaurants are dark. And people either aren’t out on the street — or are wearing masks and staying six feet apart. 

Some version of this same landscape can be seen across most of America. A handful of states are relaxing some social distancing orders, but most businesses can expect to stay closed for at least another few weeks, or months

What will the long-term impact of these closures be on retail? 

Can the mom and pop stores, or even the multibillion-dollar chains, bounce back? 

Writer Derek Thompson recently  spoke to dozens of retail analysts, store owners, economists, and more. He found that while the short-term prognosis is bleak… retail will, at the end of the day, survive:

“But the near death of the American city will also be its rebirth. When rents fall, mom-and-pop stores will rise again—America will need them. […] Cheaper empty spaces will be incubators for stores that serve up ancient pleasures, like coffee and books, and novel combinations of health tech, fitness, and apparel. Eccentric chefs will return, and Americans will remember, if they ever forgot, the sacred joys of a private plate in a place that buzzes with strangers. From the ashes, something new will grow, and something better, too, if we build it right.”

We talk to Thompson about his findings and about the future of retail.

Copyright 2020 WAMU 88.5. To see more, visit WAMU 88.5.

Paige Osburn