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Retailers In New England Brace For Holiday Season Like No Other

The Eastfield Mall in Springfield has been the site of temporary court space.
Steven E. Nanton
The Republican / masslive.com
The Eastfield Mall on Boston Road in Springfield, Massachusetts, urges people to wash their hands frequently on its electronic billboard.

Black Friday traditionally marks the start of the holiday shopping season, a crucial time for retailers. But a group representing them in Massachusetts said it's impossible to predict how it will go this year.

Jon Hurst, president of the Retailers Association of Massachusetts, said business has varied so much for stores during the coronavirus pandemic that — for the first time in decades — his organization is not even making an official prediction.

Hurst said consumers who plan to venture out to shop should do so at off-hours, like weekday mornings, to avoid crowds and to make sure they can get what they want.

"Selection is going to be an issue this year, because a lot of sellers are being very careful," he said. "A lot of inventories are off about 10% versus last year."

The retailers association in Connecticut said that despite the coronavirus pandemic, it's predicting this year's holiday shopping season will be up over last year.

Tim Phelan, head of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, said the increase of between 3.6% and 5.2% falls in line with the national forecast

Phelan said this season could be especially important for businesses that have been suffering.

"Generally, this is the time of the year that all retailers need it to make their year a success," he said. "This year, I think — for many — it's more than just that. It might be just the difference between staying in business or not."

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, brick-and-mortar stores will also have to contend with state-imposed capacity limits on their businesses.

Nancy Creed, president of the Springfield Regional Chamber in Massachusetts, said that besides offering the ability to shop online and do curbside pickup, many retailers are taking other steps to keep shoppers safe.

"If they're having sales events, they're asking for RSVPs so they can manage their capacity," she said. "They're developing wait lists, taking appointments — and naturally, they're really beefing up their sanitation protocols within the stores."

Creed said there's cautious optimism that the holiday shopping season may be successful for Springfield-area retailers for two reasons, both related to COVID-19: many retailers have a larger online presence than before, and some people are choosing to shop closer to home.

Adam joined NEPM as a freelance reporter and fill-in operations assistant during the summer of 2011. For more than 15 years, Adam has had a number stops throughout his broadcast career, including as a news reporter and anchor, sports host and play-by-play announcer as well as a producer and technician.
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