Retailers: A partial lockdown would be ‘catastrophic’ for economy
Reactions from representatives of Puerto Rico’s retail sector were quickly offered Wednesday in response to the possibility of a partial lockdown to fight the raging spread of the COVID-19 virus. In a nutshell, they agreed cutting back hours would be “catastrophic” for the island’s economy.
In separate statements, the Puerto Rican Association of Shopping Centers, the Puerto Rico Retailers Association (ACDET, in Spanish), and the United Retailers Association (CUD in Spanish) predicted there would be job losses and permanent business closures, among other harmful effects.
A partial closure that only allows curbside pick-up or online sales would be “catastrophic for businesses inside shopping centers, of which more than 60% are small and medium-sized local businesses,” said the shopping centers association, which groups Plaza Las Américas, Plaza del Caribe, Céntrico Mall, San Patricio Plaza, The Mall of San Juan, and Plaza Río Hondo, among others.
“Right now, when businesses that are still open have posted unprecedented losses, have Christmas inventory in stock, have hired additional staff, and are following executive order guidelines, it would be a death sentence for many merchants,” the group said in a statement.
“They won’t survive it, and worst of all, there won’t be a significant reduction in infections either because the main problem is in family gatherings and in political rallies in early November,” the group stated.
On Wednesday, Puerto Rico Health Department memo made the rounds on social media, listing suggested measures to curb the virus which has so far claimed more than 1,000 deaths in Puerto Rico. Among them is the partial closure of businesses and the full shutdown of casinos and gyms, among others. There is currently an Executive Order in place through Dec. 11 limiting commercial activity.
However, it is expected that Gov. Wanda Vázquez will announce changes to the order before it expires.
Adolfo González, president of the Puerto Rican Association of Shopping Centers, said the sector is just emerging from Black Friday sales, which he said were completely modified to add more days to prevent crowds.
“Our objective as an Association has been to be very careful with the protocols and with the capacity control, following the Executive Order, to always be able to offer alternatives to our visitors,” he said, adding retailers also offered online shopping and pick-up and delivery services.
Meanwhile, the ACDET warned of the “serious consequences” that returning to a “lockdown” will have during the month of December — the peak holiday shopping period.
“Overseeing retailers is less complicated than controlling residences and public or clandestine places, where people gather and that represent 68% of infections according to data from the Health Department,” said Iván Báez, president of ACDET.
“Our economy is in dire shape, sales have not recovered, and we’re just beginning to normalize hiring. We call on the government to be very careful and implement measures directed at uncontrolled and high-risk areas,” he said.
Saying businesses “have done everything that has been asked of us, and more,” Báez said, “the association has spared no effort to educate employers, employees and customers on compliance, and we have delivered.”
Citing statistics that Puerto Rico’s epidemiologists have shared, Báez said retail has not been the focus of the most recent outbreaks or infections on the island, so the group urged the government to refrain from imposing further restrictions.
“We are already operating at 30% capacity, more closures will be the final blow that will send more than 100,000 employees home, causing a food and economic crisis, which adds to the health emergency due to COVID-19,” Báez said.
Both organizations coincided that Black Friday sales flowed without incident.
Meanwhile, the CUD, which represents small and mid-sized businesses, said a new Executive Order that includes a total shutdown will prompt 25% of those operations to close for good and the of 50% of the sector’s jobs, especially in restaurants.
CUD President Jesús Vázquez expressed concern that the trade group has not been considered.
“We’re the island’s most important organization, representing the largest commercial sector and we’ve never been asked for our opinion. It makes me wonder where the recommendations the governor is getting come from,” he said. The CUD has 5,000 members who represent 15,000 businesses in Puerto Rico.
“Businesses that aren’t complying with executive orders, those that don’t close at the established hours, as well as those that allow people outside their establishment to drink without wearing a mask, should be punished, because they threaten the health of the people,” he said, adding the police needs to crack down on violators.
Vázquez said a full lockdown would finish an economy that is currently in trouble and that has not yet been able to recover from the hurricanes of 2017.
He said that so far in 2020, more than $1.1 billion has been lost in the small and medium-sized business sector and predicted it could reach up to $2 billion at year-end.