AUSTIN, Texas — The holiday shopping season is upon us. Retail businesses usually count on this time to make up for slower periods of the year – but there is nothing normal about 2020.
Skyrocketing cases of COVID-19 in the Austin area have some merchants concerned that sales in October, November and December may not be enough to pull them out of the red and into the black.
Emily Hoover, the owner of Feathers Boutique, a vintage shop near South Congress Avenue, is one of the dozens of business owners hoping for more foot traffic in the South Austin area in the next few weeks.
But she admits, "I am a little bit nervous."
Hoover has watched COVID-19 cases increase once again. Back in March, the pandemic shut down her business.
"I was closed for 77 days," Hoover said.
She was forced to pivot. She moved a lot of inventory online and her business flourished.
But Brandon Hodge, the president of the South Congress Merchant Association, said many of the other 100 to 120 businesses on South Congress Avenue can't do that.
"Congress has a reputation for having very expensive rents. And there's a reason for that. Many of us are not paying for online merchandise, for online sales. We're paying for the foot traffic that the popularity of that shopping district brings," Hodge said.
He said while businesses are looking forward to the holiday season, they are anxious because this year may not be as busy as previous years. And that may have devastating effects.
"With a lackluster holiday season is going to create an extremely dismal winter in the months beyond. And I've been using the word bloodbath. I think we are facing a small business bloodbath on South Congress and in Austin in general. And we're going to see a lot of landmark and iconic businesses going under because we just can't sustain the weight of this any longer," Hodge said.
In the meantime, while Hoover considers herself lucky, she knows things can change in an instant.
"Because that's the theme of 2020: You never know," she said.
The KVUE Defenders obtained sales tax revenue data from the State Comptroller's Office. They looked at how cities across Central Texas have fared over the past year to measure the toll COVID-19 has had. The records show Austin has lost 1,685 businesses.
Hodge urges people to shop local before any more small businesses close their doors forever.
PEOPLE ARE ALSO READING: