With the holiday season upon us, merchants still recovering from Hurricane Sandy are looking to rebound. NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider spoke with John Holub, President of the New Jersey Retail Merchants Association (NJRMA), about the storm impact and retail expectations.
According to Holub, retailers were hurt not just by Sandy but the nor’easter that occurred a week later that kept businesses closed. And it couldn’t come at a worst time as stores gear up for the most important time of the year.
Sandy was an equal opportunity destroyer in terms of geography. Up and down the state, communities and businesses a like were affected, from the shore communities to Bergen County.
Retailers have been on the front lines of response and recovery efforts to the storm, says Holub.
“They wanted to be open, be able to address and provide for the needs of community. So that was their biggest thing.”
For retailers in Bergen County, one of the consequences of Sandy was a temporary lifting of its Blue Laws, which prevents stores from opening on Sunday, to allow residents to purchase essential items.
“We thank the governor, we thank the county executive for taking this common sense approach to allow retailers to do what they do best which as I keep saying is providing for the needs of the community.”
The decision, however temporary, was controversial and the debate continues between proponents and opponents of the Blue Laws. Holub has made no secret where he stands on the issue. He said a disaster like Sandy exposed the absurdity of preventing stores from opening on Sunday. He went further and said he would like to see the law repealed.
“We’d certainly like to see them repealed once and for all. However, we’re still in the recovery stage from the superstorm [and] I don’t really think it’s a time to have that discussion but certainly one we welcome in the future.”
With regard to holiday sales, Holub says analysts are predicting a 4 percent increase which translates to the average shopper spending about $750.
“It’s actually below the 10-year average [but] considering the current economic conditions, any increase — even a modest one — is welcome,” he said.
One emerging trend is early Black Friday openings beginning on Thanksgiving Day. Giant stores like Walmart and Target announced they would begin Black Friday late Thanksgiving Day, sparking protests from employees.
“I saw somebody joking the other day that Black Friday now has become the only day of the year that’s longer than 24 hours,” quipped Holub. It’s an aggressive effort in response to tough, economic times, he says.
“There’s a lot of things going against retailers but a lot of things going for them right now. We have one of the longest holiday shopping seasons we’ve had since 2007. We actually have 32 days of shopping pre-Christmas which we haven’t had for quite some time. So retailers are trying to get a big jump start on it and hopefully can meet those sales-projections that I mentioned and hopefully exceed them.”