Seriously, You Opened A Store In The Pandemic? And More Surprising Retail Trends

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People shop at Macy’s in New York on Aug. 9, 2021.

Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty Images


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Supermarket and service station employees were among the lowest-paid workers to be declared essential during the pandemic, often taking on the dangerous task of policing mask-wearing by customers. Angry shoppers have assaulted and even killed workers. Tens of thousands got sick with COVID-19 and dozens died.

«It was scary,» says Bekah Pressley, who spent the pandemic working at Walmart in southern Arizona. «I kind of didn’t process all that for a long time… I remember going to my car and just crying because it was so scary.»


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Pressley, like many others, says the pandemic added to the ordinary stresses of the job, like frantic schedules and a lack of paid time off. When her store had to close as she and others got coronavirus, Pressley’s pay left her short on bills. She recently got a new job as a coronavirus screener at an industrial facility, earning $15 an hour — up from her retail pay of $12.75 an hour.

But retail stores are also hiring at a record pace.

In June, the retail industry had an eye-popping number of 1.1 million job openings — after more than 1.1 million workers got hired in a remarkable hiring spree.

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A hiring sign is displayed outside a store in Buffalo Grove, Ill. on June 24, 2021.

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Shoppers line up for the grand opening of Addison Bay’s first physical store on a rainy May day in Avalon, N.J.

Molly McArdle/Courtesy of Marguerite Adzick


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This year, fighting for workers, many retailers pushed up wages faster than expected. Best Buy and Kay Jewelers, for example, raised starting pay to $15 an hour.

But for many years before this, retail wages had stagnated, and last year’s pandemic «hero pay» bonuses proved to be a temporary boost. In June, the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed average hourly pay of non-managers in retail reaching $18.62. For grocery store staff specifically, average pay was lower at $14.92 an hour. At gas stations it was $13.89 an hour.

Meanwhile, higher prices are erasing the buying power of those new raises. July saw the highest inflation rate in nearly 13 years. Some labor economists worry that wages might get frozen again while prices continue rising.

President Biden had campaigned on a promise to raise the federal minimum to $15 an hour, but Democrats could not include it in the COVID relief bill and for now it’s also not mentioned in the new Democratic budget proposal.

  • retail workers
  • reopening stores
  • shopping malls
  • Wages
  • Retail
  • retail sales

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