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Omicron is Reversing New York City’s Long Road to Retail Recovery

New York City was so close.

When U.S. borders opened to international visitors on Nov. 8, retailers and trade groups rejoiced at the rebound in the U.S. fashion market, which had already been on the upswing for the last couple of months. Like other major travel destinations, New York City relies on tourism-induced sales and was hit hard amid pandemic-related shutdowns and a lack of tourism in the U.S. But now, the light at the end of the tunnel was finally visible.

At the same time corporate offices were planning on reopening their doors. Stores were gearing up for a holiday season of record demand. And major events, like theatre and industry conferences, were back in-person.

Then Omicron came, and months of recovery seemed to disintegrate in a matter of weeks.

The U.S. hit a pandemic record on Tuesday, with 265,427 cases a day on average, the Wall Street Journal reported. In New York City, 2% of all Manhattan residents were positive in the last week, with other boroughs seeing similarly strong numbers.

According to recent data from the Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), the progress made in Manhattan’s retail markets depends on “clear guidance” from leadership and the “ability to handle the increase in the COVID-19 cases.”

“The failure to contain COVID-19 or address these other issues would jeopardize the progress already made, in what has turned out to be a marathon rather than a sprint to recovery,” the report stated.

New York State Governor Kathy Hochul announced new safety guidelines this month, which requires masks to be worn in all indoor public places unless that place has its own vaccine requirement. This requirement, which lasts until January 15, affects retail stores as well as restaurants. As on Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio requires all private-sector workers in the city to be full vaccinated.

Despite these measures, a surge of cases has sent New York City’s progress spiraling. Subway lines have been suspended or delayed from workers calling out sick. Broadway shows are cancelling performances due to sick actors. CityMD, which offers COVID-19 tests, has closed 20 locations in New York City because of staffing issues. Meanwhile, at-home tests are becoming increasingly hard to find and retailers are placing purchase limits on these items to avoid stock-outs.

On the retail side, the situation is also precarious. Apple temporarily closed all of its New York City stores for in-person shopping earlier this week but is now allowing customers to come in on a limited basis, after facing backlash.

Other retailers have not yet announced plans to close their stores. Macy’s, which operates a major flagship store in Manhattan, said it is monitoring the situation closely but does not have plans to close any stores yet. The company said it has “implemented enhanced safety and wellness procedures” to minimize concerns. In stores, Macy’s recommends that customers to wear a facial covering while shopping.

Neiman Marcus, which operates two Bergdorf Goodman stores in Manhattan, said it has no plans to close stores at this time. Spokespeople for Target and Nordstrom said the same.

Lester Wasserman, owner of the iconic Manhattan shoe store Tip Top Shoes, also plans to keep his store open.

“New York City still remains behind the curve as it relates to economic recovery since the pandemic began and every report I’m hearing about the new strain is that while it may be more contagious, it’s very mild,” Wasserman said.

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