Robert Willis, a manager at Attach clothing in Cumberland Mall, is concerned about the impact of coronavirus on retail workers.

Local retailers beginning to feel coronavirus pinch

There were more mannequins than warm bodies in the Macy’s at Cumberland Mall on Monday morning, as shoppers began to heed warnings about gathering where they could be exposed to other people and the coronavirus.

By 12:30 p.m., Robert Willis, a manager a few doors down from Macy’s at clothing retailer Attach, had sold one pair of pants for $49.99.

From store to store, sales staff could be seen scrolling through smart phones, talking among themselves or cleaning.

“This is not a typical Monday,” Willis said.

While suppliers of life’s basics such as grocery stores are weathering a tidal wave of shoppers, many brick-and-mortar retailers of discretionary goods are beginning to see the opposite: Buyers are not showing up.

Some major store chains — from Apple to REI to Urban Outfitters — have already announced closings until near the end of the month. More closings could be coming with powers newly delegated to Gov. Brian Kemp to order closures to slow the outbreak of new cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

For now, many, like Macy’s, are staying open and trying to keep customers coming through the doors by promising to take extra steps to clean, but it seemed a hard sell Monday.

Some predict the slowdown in retail sales, an important cog in the state and national economy, will inevitably impact jobs and workers’ lives in coming weeks, though some of the big retailers like Apple and REI are promising to keep paying those furloughed in the near future.

Many retail workers live check to check, Willis said. If they go a couple of weeks without pay, “then the bottom is going to fall out,” he predicted.

Apple stores, like this one in Cumberland Mall, have been ordered closed by headquarters to help prevent the spread of coronavirus.

The impact on Atlanta has already been huge, with pro sporting events, business meetings, music and entertainment canceled. Some of Atlanta’s biggest companies have been hard hit, including Delta Air Lines, which on Friday announced a 40% reduction in planned flights over the next few months, its biggest rollback ever.

A Wells Fargo economic report from last week noted the impact of the virus on fast-growing areas like Seattle, which is farther along in the outbreak than Georgia. The extent of the slowdown may not become apparent in jobs and income data for another couple of months, it said.

However, the report added, “with the labor market so tight for so long, many employers may opt to reduce hours rather than let workers go. Many smaller businesses, however, do not have the resources to withstand a prolonged slump and a few have already shut down.”

The weekend at local shopping centers started OK, with crowds coming Friday night and Saturday morning. Then it began to slow.

“Everybody is wondering what to do. It’s not a normal situation,” said Mohammed Ali, sitting alone on a chair Monday in Cumberland Mall at the Sunglasses Club kiosk, where he works.

Several shops in the mall didn’t open because workers didn’t show up, he said. “Everybody needs money, but what good is your money if you are sick or dead?”

In the Aspire Center retail complex on Cobb County’s East-West Connector, Rogina Carter sat behind the counter of her Café Blue. The place was empty at the beginning of lunch, although the smell of fried chicken filled the air. After a short wait, she got one family.

Carter, who has been open for five months, said many customers are spillovers from other businesses. But they are all struggling. A sporting goods shop was open but empty. The Japanese restaurant closed. The Starbucks had a line of cars around the block for the drive through, because the dining room was closed.

Wes Moore’s newly opened EVOfit gym in Austell had a few gym rats Monday afternoon, and Moore stayed busy spraying surfaces and wiping them down.

Moore said typically a cleaning crew goes through a gym at least once an hour to wipe it down. The coronavirus has accelerated that to every 10 minutes. And starting Monday night, all members will go through a temperature reader before entering the facility.

“All of this is obviously unfortunate,” Moore said. “We have sick people out there and people who are dying, so this is very serious. But if you look at the other side of it, this is a call for fitness and for people to take care of themselves.

He stood up and sprayed his seat. Then he left to get more cleaning supplies.

Wes Moore and employees are spending more time cleaning equipment in his newly opened EVOfit gym.

The situation worries Patrice Landers, owner of a Juice Me Too, an Austell juice bar and health restaurant in Brookwood Square in Cobb County.

Just an hour before she was about to close for the day, she had made only about $80.

She is constantly wiping down the doors and counters. But starting on Tuesday, she will work the store alone. All other workers will be on call.

“We are just trying to hang in there,” Landers said. “We are going to ride it out as long as we can.”

Landers said she has started to have conversations with her creditors and has reached out to the federal government to inquire about emergency small business loans for her Brookwood Square shop.

“All of us are taking a hit and this and we are all are just trying to figure it out,” Landers said. “We are all going to have to make some tough decisions. I just don’t know what those decisions are going to be.”

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