Retail sales plunge 56 percent amid Covid-19 lockdown in April
Small, mid-sized stores hardest hit by virus emergency; supermarkets, pharmacies register sales hikes
SAN JUAN – Amid the severest of Covid-19 curfew/lockdown measures, Puerto Rico’s retail sales in April plunged 56 percent compared to the same month last year, with small and medium-sized stores suffering the greatest losses.
Retail sales on the island in April totaled $1.02 billion, compared to $2.3 billion in April 2019, according to the latest Puerto Rico Trade & Export Co. data published by the Puerto Rico Statistics Institute. Total retail sales fell 19.7 percent for the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year – from $10.3 billion in 2019 to $8.3 billion in 2020.
Retail sales in March — when Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced declared a state of emergency and implemented a curfew/lockdown order in response to the Covid-19 pandemic — fell 18.5 percent compared to the same month last year. March retail sales totaled $2.1 billion compared to the $2.6 billion registered in March 2019.
The island’s retail sales had been trending downward since last year, but the negative figures were in the single digits. Retail sales in 2019 totaled $32.2 billion, which was 3.7 percent lower than the $33.5 billion in total sales for 2018. A significant portion of this decrease was the result of a nearly 18 percent drop in hardware and home furnishing sales as a result of the slowdown in federal funding for hurricane Irma and Maria repairs and reconstruction.
Before the Covid-19 emergency, the largest drop in retail sales occurred in January, when such sales fell 7.2 percent. During that month the island was struck by a series of earthquakes centered along the southwestern coast that caused serious damages to businesses and homes there.
Severe losses for small, midsized stores
Small and medium-sized stores were the hardest hit by the Covid-19 curfew/lockdown, according to the Puerto Rico Trade & Export Co. data.
Sales at medium-sized stores plummeted 86 percent in April compared to the same month last year – from $547.7 million in April 2019 to $76.3 million this year. These stores’ total sales fell nearly 20 percent during the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year.
Small store sales plunged 73.4 percent to $68.3 million during the same month, compared to the $256.8 million in sales they made in April 2019. These stores’ total sales decreased by 32.3 percent during the first four months of this year compared to the same period last year.
Non-chain large stores experienced a nearly 52 percent decrease in sales in April, which totaled $108.7 million compared to the $225.1 million in sales they made in April 2019. These establishments’ sales dropped by nearly 22 percent during the first four months of this year compared to the year-ago period – from $1 billion to $791.4 million.
In contrast, large retail chains, locally as well as overseas-based, were not as severely affected, registering a nearly 40 percent decrease in sales in April. Sales at these establishments fell from $1.3 billion in April 2019 to $763.6 million in April. These stores’ total sales fell nearly 16 percent to $4.4 billion during the first four months of this year compared to the $5.2 billion in sales they made during the same period last year.
Smaller retail establishments criticized the governor’s curfew/lockdown executive order for unwittingly allowing unfair competition due to language allowing the opening of large retail establishments that sell nonessential products as well as food products. Kress, a local women’s clothing chain, filed a lawsuit against the government at San Juan Superior Court demanding that such language be “clarified.” The executive order was replaced later that month with the start of the gradual reopening of the economy.
On March 15, Gov. Wanda Vázquez Garced issued an executive order ordering the closure of nonessential businesses, which excluded supermarkets, pharmacies, gas stations, banks and those related to food distribution, as an emergency measure to control the spread of the usually deadly novel coronavirus among the island’s residents.
The order — which included the shuttering of places such as movie theaters and shopping malls, as well as a 7 p.m.-to-6 a.m. nightly curfew — was renewed every 15 days until May 25, when the governor started to gradually lift the curfew/lockdown measures, until many of the severest measures were removed by mid-June.
However, Vázquez reinstated many restrictions starting on July 17, after medical experts alerted to the most serious spike in cases since the beginning of the crisis. The governor issued a new executive order on Wednesday establishing more severe restrictions to contain the spread of Covid-19 on the island, among them a 24-hour lockdown on Sundays and a $100 fine for people not wearing protective masks in public. The order will remain in effect during the next 21 days.
Retail stores, including restaurants, are allowed to remain open if they limit their capacity to 25 percent and ensure that customers remain at least six feet apart.
Retail items most affected
According to the Puerto Rico Trade & Export Co. data, stores selling footwear, jewelry, luggage and leather products registered no sales in April. Clothing stores saw its sales plummet 97.6 percent to $1.9 million, compared to the $79.1 million in sales they made in April 2019.
Sales of new and used vehicles plunged 97.1 percent to $12.9 million in April, down from $450.1 million during the same month last year. Retail sales at hardware stores, home furnishing establishments and electronic equipment stores fell between 82 percent and 85 percent during the same month.
Sales at restaurants and establishments selling alcoholic beverages fell 70.2 percent in April. Fuel distributors saw their sales drop 14.1 percent in April, although their total sales during the first four months of this year had increase by 17.5 percent.
In contrast, supermarket sales in April rose 22.6 percent to reach $325.7 million, up from $265.6 million in the year-ago month. Such sales totaled $1.2 billion during the first four months of this year – an increase of 12.7 percent over the $1.1 billion in sales registered during the same period last year.
Pharmacy stores experienced a 4.2 percent increase in retail sales during April. These establishments’ sales rose from $163.2 million in April 2019 to $170.1 million in April of this year. Pharmacies’ sales climbed 11.4 percent to $723.6 million during the first four months of this year, compared to the $649.3 million in sales they made during the same period last year.