CT retailers see surge in consumer activity
Stimulus money, vaccine fuel March spike in sales
Connecticut retailers saw a surge of activity in March at about the same time that stimulus checks went out from the federal government.
The U.S. Commerce Department reported Thursday that retail sales around the country increased by 9.8 percent in March compared to the previous month. The increase was the largest since May 2020, when retailers started reopening after being shutdown due to COVID-19 protocols.
The March increase in retail sales was well above the 5.9 percent increase that economists who were surveyed prior to the Commerce Department announcement had expected.
Across the state, retailers said they are seeing signs of growth.
“Our traffic was up, our sales were up,” said Charlie Guthrie, general manager of Westbrook Outlets. “We hold a monthly artisan and local vendors event, which occurred in March after the stimulus checks went out. We saw a lot more activity than usual.”
The March retail sales numbers represent
The state’s retail sector has recovered 84 percent of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic.
a dramatic turnaround from February, when commerce department officials reported numbers that were down 2.7 percent. The rebound came just as $1,400 stimulus checks, which were included in President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan, started to reach the public.
Tim Phelan, president of the Connecticut Retail Merchants Association, said his members benefited from the stimulus money, which gave consumers “a little bit more disposable income.” But Phelan said the increasing number of people getting a COVID-19 vaccine may be an even bigger factor driving sustained growth in the coming months.
“It makes folks feel more confident when they go shopping,” he said.
More than one-third of U.S. population has received at least one vaccine dose, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Here in Connecticut, 46 percent of the population has received at least one shot.
Several Connecticut residents said they would use their stimulus checks to pay down bills or put it into savings. Others, like Shaun Turpenning of Middletown, said they wanted to purchase a new vehicle. “(Going to) a down payment on a mini-van for the family,” said Turpenning.
Tracey Broadrick Brown, of Naugatuck, said she hasn’t spent her stimulus check yet, “but it’s getting added onto the down payment on a new car in the next few weeks.”
Another factor in bolstering retail sales is more people returning to work, said Pete Gioia, chief economist with PGEcon LLC.
The Connecticut Department of Labor reported that the state’s economy added 5,400 jobs in March, the third straight month there has been an increase in employment. And the state’s retail sector has recovered 84 percent of the jobs that were lost during the pandemic.
“As they see more people in the stores, they’re saying ‘I need to hire more people,’” Gioia said.
The increase in the number of vaccines has also led to more people traveling, he said, which also has an impact on the retail sales numbers. “People tend to spend more when they travel,” Gioia said.
Gioia predicted retail sales numbers will continue to be strong in the coming months. “Maybe 9.8 percent increases, but certainly five or six percent,” he said.