Zika Causes Anxiety, Long Term Headache For Miami Retailers

Miami Beach
Miami Beach could see a tourism hit from Zika.
REX Shutterstock.

In what’s already been a challenging season, the news of the Zika virus landing in Miami — one of the hottest cities for tourism and retail in the U.S. — is causing anxiety among some retailers.

After an initial outbreak in trendy arts district Wynwood in early August, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that pregnant women should not travel to Miami-Dade County after more local transmissions were discovered.

Experts said while the immediate impact might not be noticeable — particularly since high season doesn’t kick up until November — the real worry with Zika is long term.

Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst of retail at The NPD Group, said that if the virus extends into the Carolinas, Georgia and Louisiana, retailers would definitely feel a shift as tourists change plans. “We are thinking about how consumers are thinking and feeling about Zika, and we keep coming back to the fact Congress didn’t vote for spending to solve the problem, so I think people are waiting to see,” Cohen said.

The anxiety comes after the CDC announced almost all the allocated Zika funds for Florida have been used, leaving many pointing a finger at Congress, which left funding off the table before summer recess.

Jacob Antebi, VP of sales for Marc Joseph New York, has seen the impact of Zika on tourism at its Puerto Rico store. Antebi said traffic dropped off significantly after the virus was found on the island.

In response, the brand is giving more attention to local shoppers there ahead of its third store opening — in Boca Raton, Fla.

“We have a great staff who really cultivated a good relationship with the locals, so we don’t have to rely on tourists only,” Antebi said. “You have to take care of the local customer.”

Cohen suggested that since Miami is a key test market for shoppers, the shock waves of a dampened tourism season could give false reads on in-demand styles and product that sells.

Alechemist co-owner Roma Cohen said that while Zika itself is a concern — the virus is definitely the focus of much conversation around town — it hasn’t affected his business yet. “It’s present,” said Cohen. “But this is a slower moment for retail in the second half of August and September. Our sales have been steady, even though it’s out there in the press. It was probably a bit more of a scare for Wynwood.”

Similarly, local independent running chain Fit 2 Run, which operates 15 stores in Florida, hadn’t seen much of an impact in attendance for the weekend fun runs it hosts and with people stopping in.

One big shift is happening, though: Marketing manager Jayme Epstein said the chain’s buyers were looking to start stocking bug-repellant options.“We’ve heard that tourism has dropped just a bit from the Chamber [of Commerce], but people in Miami are still coming out and going along,” she said.

At Wynwood-based Sneak Attack, which opened earlier this year, manager Albert Elkerson said traffic has been steady among local residents and tourists alike. He added that the store has been spraying repellent and making sure that standing water doesn’t accumulate near the store, as directed by the health department.