SC_TIMES_TRIB-20200911-A-PG3-TT091120COFFEEHOUSE-5-94E05F32

Tom and Patrice Bonin review plans for their new business, Commonwealth Coffeehouse, which opened in February in the Samter's building, 101 Penn Ave., Scranton.

It’s been a little more than a year since the global pandemic changed the way we conduct business and the way we live. As we head into what we hope will be the final phase of pandemic life, once again, we find ourselves asking: What’s next?

Of course, none of us can predict the future, but we can explore local business trends and track economic forecasts for the remainder of 2021. Between March 2020 and March of this year, we noted some interesting growth in the downtown Scranton business district. During this period, four businesses closed, while eight new businesses opened and at least one expanded to accommodate growing clientele. It’s always encouraging to see new businesses open, but it’s even more inspiring to witness new development during a global pandemic.

When it comes to national trends, the retail and restaurant industries are of particular interest as they play such an important role in our downtowns and main streets. According to the National Retail Federation, “retail sales in 2020 grew 6.7 percent over 2019 to $4.06 trillion, nearly doubling NRF’s forecast of at least 3.5 percent growth, which did not account for the impact of a global pandemic. This figure compares with 3.9 percent growth in 2019.”

The foundation’s annual forecast predicts the upward trend to continue through 2021, projecting retail sales to grow between 6.5 and 8.2 percent, with e-commerce sales expected to continue to trend upward. That’s promising news for local retailers and a reminder to all of us to continue to support local. A complete list of downtown Scranton retailers can be found in our downtown shopping guide at www.scrantontomorrow.org/downtownshopping.

The restaurant industry will continue to need our support this year, too. Nationwide, restaurants are among the businesses suffering the most economic hardship during the pandemic. The National Restaurant Association estimates that “during the first 12 months of the pandemic, restaurant and foodservice sales were down $270 billion from expected levels.”

In support of local restaurants, Scranton Tomorrow will continue to promote dining local initiatives through the Electric City Connection project and through our partnership with Lackawanna College’s Rally for Restaurants. We will also continue to promote our downtown Scranton dining guide at www.scrantontomorrow.org/downtowndining, featuring links to more than 60 restaurants and bars in the Business District.

While there is much to look forward to this year and statewide restrictions are easing, businesses must still adhere to health and safety standards established by Pennsylvania’s Department of Health during COVID-19. Scranton Tomorrow will continue to help members of the business community stay current on the latest guidelines, funding opportunities, and local sources for personal protective equipment. We encourage everyone to subscribe to our mailing list by contacting Liz Baldi, project coordinator, Scranton Tomorrow, at lizbaldi@scrantontomorrow.org, follow us on social media, and bookmark our business resources web page at https://www.scrantontomorrow.org/businessresources. We will continue to update this section in support of the local business community as long as there is a need.

Leslie Collins is the President and CEO of Scranton Tomorrow, a nonprofit economic development group.

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