Boscov’s, the largest family-owned discount department store chain in the U.S., reopened two of its stores in Pennsylvania counties where officials have deemed the coronavirus to be less of a threat, marking relief for the company that attained the increasingly rare achievement of finding success with its brick-and-mortar stores as other retailers have flailed.
Its Selinsgrove store in central Pennsylvania’s rural Snyder County opened on Mother’s Day, as did its northwestern location in Erie, shortly after Gov. Tom Wolf permitted 24 counties in Northwest and North-Central Pennsylvania to reopen, said Jim Boscov, chief executive of the Berks County-based chain.
“There was pent-up demand because we’ve been closed for two months," he said.
Boscov’s is among a growing number of chain retailers that are beginning to test the appetite for in-person shopping as shutdown restrictions are eased. Macy’s recently announced plans to reopen all of its 775 stores, including Bloomingdale’s, over the next six to eight weeks, in states that have eased restrictions. And on Monday the retailer opened seven stores in the Tampa Bay, Fla., area, according to news reports.
This week, Ulta opened 180 stores in Arkansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and Utah while Gap Inc., which owns its namesake brand, Old Navy, Banana Republic and Athleta, said it plans to reopen up to 800 stores in North America by the end of the month.
Some stores such as Best Buy are requiring shoppers to make appointments for in-store consultations to buy appliances or electronics, while others are requiring customers to wear face coverings. Plexiglass and hand sanitizers are much on display.
Unlike other retailers, Boscov’s had a model of filling online orders from its physical stores instead of relying on third-party vendors. When Wolf ordered the closure of all nonessential businesses in Pennsylvania, a sweeping measure instituted nationwide, Boscov’s, in a sense, shut down twice — physically, then digitally.
“When the stores closed down, that virtually shut down our online business," Boscov said. A small number of employees were eventually allowed to fulfill online orders from physical stores, and “it allowed us to keep serving our customers. We didn’t disappear from sight, and it allowed us to have a small but helpful amount of revenue. ... But most of our business remains in brick-and-mortar."
Boscov’s is the largest family-owned discount department store chain in the U.S. based on revenue, number of employees, and number of locations. It has 48 locations from Ohio to Rhode Island, 26 of which are in Pennsylvania. Four are in the Philadelphia suburbs and have no estimated reopening date as the region grapples with more coronavirus cases.
Reopened Boscov locations instituted safety measures that included spacing registers farther apart for social distancing, closing dressing rooms (a “hardship for people," Boscov acknowledged), and using infrared thermometers to take the temperature of employees every morning.
“I really do believe that as much as I like business, I like safety and health even more," he said.
Despite a successful day in Selinsgrove and Erie on Sunday, 35% of U.S. consumers reported in the first week of May that they had cut back spending on clothes the most, according to the retail industry tracker Coresight Research.
The figure was down from 41% the week prior, although Coresight reported more people were shopping online, in general, with purchases for furniture and home-improvement items remaining popular.
The coronavirus pandemic has still been expected to wallop the retail industry with millions in the U.S. out of work and struggling to pay for basic necessities.
Consumer spending before the pandemic could have also remained a hurdle. Borrowing continually increased in the U.S., and Americans reported a record $14 trillion in household debt, topping the last record of about $12.5 trillion in 2008, according to BDO, the Belgium-based global network of financial and business consulting firms.
“Other retailers have been reporting — how can I say this — modest sales," Boscov said, “and I think that we have to be realistic and expect that people will take their time coming back."