Retailers Reopen to Face Uncertain Future

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In the one week since the state's paced reopening began, Steven Amato says it's been nice to have customers back inside.

Before that, the co-owner of Amato's Toy and Hobby of New Britain says they had curbside only. Because customers couldn't enter the shop, he turned their large windows into a type of vending machine for the most asked-for items.

"Puzzles, games, Legos. And we put prices on them and numbers right against the glass so people could shop, actual window shopping like the good old days. And it really saved us," said Amato. "We sold more jigsaw puzzles than we did in the last five years probably."

And adaptation like that is what Brian A. Marks says businesses and systems need. Marks is the executive director of the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program at the University of New Haven.

"The lesson learned here is firms, retail, manufacturing in the state of Connecticut, education systems, need to look at the assets, need to be able to have assets that are no longer specific to one purpose but can be reallocated, redesigned to take advantage of changing circumstances. And I think that's a big lesson," said Marks.

In recent weeks several major retailers filed for bankruptcy but Marks says that's no surprise. He says before the pandemic the retail sector was being confronted with weaknesses and that with the COVID-19-induced economic crisis, that this provided other retailers who had vulnerabilities "... a strategic opportunity to shore up their balance sheet by seeking bankruptcy protection."

"You can't ignore what is going on is showing vulnerabilities in the balance sheets of large firms. That is an indicator on a national level. But if you want to really get a feel of what's going on locally, you really have to look at Main Street," said Marks.

Experts know not every local retailer or restaurant will make it to the other side of the pandemic.

Marks believes a V-shaped recovery, which portrays a rapid decline and a rapid rebound for the economy, is not going to happen.

But in Connecticut, he's cautiously optimistic that this recovery will be faster than the last one.

"I think Connecticut could come out of this sooner than later, not take ten years, and be positioned in the long run as nationally we start revisiting and seeing how best to supply our goods and services within our own country," said Marks

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