JEFFERSON PARISH, La. — Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Jefferson Parish is a microcosm of what’s happening in retail across the country.
K-Mart and Sears have been closed for a while. New stores like Total Wine and More have recently opened.
Wednesday, discount department store chain Stein Mart announced it will soon be closing most, if not all of its stores. It has two stores in JP, including one on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
Jefferson Economic Development Commission (JEDCO) President and CEO, Jerry Bologna, said many chains had problems even before the Coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID certainly exacerbated the situation by forcing the stay at home type orders which has placed a hardship on many of these retailers and forced them to make difficult decisions to either file for bankruptcy or close,” Bologna said.
Stein Mart joins 40 other major retailers including Pier 1 Imports, J.C. Penny and Men’s Warehouse that have already filed for bankruptcy this year. The upheaval in retail and downturn in the economy have taken a bite out of JP’s sales tax collections.
Receipts for the month of May, reported in July showed a 75% drop in sale taxes at Lakeside Shopping Center in Metairie. That’s compared to the same time last year. Clearview Mall was down 32%. Overall, May sales taxes were down in the parish by 10%.
JP Council Member Jennifer Van Vrancken whose district includes Veterans Memorial Boulevard, admits she expected the numbers to be a lot worse.
“As a retail space in Metairie has vacated, been vacated by one business, we’ve been able to pretty consistently attract another exciting business into that space,” Van Vrancken said. She cited the recently closed Bravo Italian Kitchen as an example of the interest in landing a location on Veterans Memorial Boulevard.
“Just yesterday we were talking about the empty Bravo property at Lakeside,” Van Vrancken said. “Fortunately, again they are able to put into that space a new and exciting restaurant concept by a local business person Creole Cuisine.”
Bologna revealed discount supermarket chain Aldi is coming to Jefferson Parish and other stores are expected to follow.
“Additional grocery stores, Trader Joe’s, all of those type of concepts are looking at increasing their presence in Jefferson,” Bologna said. “There continues to be a demand, especially in our major retail corridor’s throughout Jefferson Parish. Retailers want to be there.”
For every major retailer struggling right now, there are dozens of small businesses hurting as well. That’s why Jefferson Parish is urging people to shop local to help keep local stores in business.
“I’m really worried about our small businesses,” Van Vrancken said. “We have to make sure they’re healthy. Some of them I think are right on the brink.”
Bankruptcies are on track to hit their worst level in a decade as the Coronavirus pandemic continues to slam businesses.