A successful COVID-19 vaccination rollout appears to be helping drive traffic back to retail stores in Massachusetts, said Saad Dinno, owner of four pharmacies in the Boston area and president-elect of the Massachusetts Pharmacists Association.
“People have been saying they have been a prisoner in their house for over a year, but now they can get out and visit their grandkids,” he said. “It opened things up, almost back to normalcy, and as it was pre-COVID. People are feeling confident and spending money.”
Dinno said that increased consumer confidence has been visible since early May at his four pharmacies, located in the western metro area of Boston.
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“We have seen tremendous increases in foot traffic in all four locations that we have,” he said.
His company was also active in the vaccine rollout, administering vaccines in group homes and in low-income housing areas, and has been vaccinating at the store level since April, he said.
According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of July 9, 62.4% of the Massachusetts population was fully vaccinated, including 73.1% of people aged 18 years old and older.
While the economic recovery has been slower than some states in the South that chose to reduce restrictions, the number of new COVID-19 cases has been minimal, with only eight new cases per 100,000 population in the week ending July 9.
Retail expansion in the greater Boston market is expected to pick up in 2021 after a slowdown last year, according to a recent report from real estate firm Marcus & Millichap.
The report noted that despite store closures in 2020, Boston’s retail real estate vacancy rate was lower than most U.S. metropolitan markets.
“Massachusetts opened vaccinations to all adults on April 19, which combined with warming weather and direct stimulus checks should pave the way for stronger in-person consumer spending at retailers in the months ahead,” the report stated.
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About 60% more retail space will open in the Boston area in 2021, compared with 2020, as construction restrictions are reduced and retail vacancy rates will continue to rise amid ongoing closures and scaled-back expansion on the part of retailers, according to the report.
Drug chains Walgreens and CVS Pharmacy both have a strong presence in Massachusetts, as do several supermarket chains with pharmacies, including Stop & Shop, which is based in Quincy, Mass., and has 127 locations in the state.
The chain, owned by Ahold Delhaize, recently began testing new temperature-controlled pickup lockers at one of its locations in Boston and has been adding more warerooms to support delivery and pickup. Last year, Stop & Shop converted a store in Brockton, Mass., that had been slated to close into a “dark store” that supports delivery and pickup only — a trend that has been growing in markets around the country.