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US Stores Expecting Recovery by Fall

Vaccines and the release of pent-up demand will power the rebound, jewelers believe.

Jul 26, 2021 2:57 AM   By Lara Ewen
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RAPAPORT... In June, Covid-19 cases were shrinking in many US states, and restrictions were relaxed in a lot of major US cities, including New York and Chicago, Illinois. Retailers, too, felt a weight had been lifted from them, with some even talking about attending the rescheduled JCK Las Vegas and Couture shows in August.

But even with the country reopening, store owners believed a true recovery might take time. They expressed hope that by fall, there would be clear signs that consumers were ready to get back to business as usual.

Back to normal

In New York, shoppers were returning to stores, albeit slowly.

“Is [business] back to normal?” asked Lauren B. Shmueli, owner of Lauren B Jewelry in the city. “It’s not back to pre-pandemic times. That will take time, and part of that is waiting for tourists to come back.”

While a good portion of Shmueli’s clients are local, she also serves many of out-of-towners. “Once people feel more comfortable and start traveling, we’ll see a strong resurgence [in] demand. I think that will come in the fall,” she predicted.

Further south, H. Bredemeier, owner of H & H Jewels in Coconut Grove, Florida, said his store had started to see more traffic in the spring.

“I don’t know what normal is, but I do feel like, as of the end of March, once we started getting vaccines, my clients started coming around again,” he related. “My 50-year-old-plus clients were hiding, and then they all came out again and started to spend. I had three really good months, and I think I’ll have a fourth. But January and February were atrocious.”

For other store owners, business never really dropped off.

“Business is crazy good, though I’m hesitant to even say that,” commented Lance Buttars, owner of Molinelli’s Jewelers in Pocatello, Idaho. “After we reopened last year, we had our best year ever, and we’re way up this year. When Covid-19 restrictions started to ease, people were more at ease about shopping. But even before that, people had a bunch of money from Covid-19 relief and stimulus checks, and they couldn’t go anywhere. The economic injury only affected some people, and people in our area were largely unscathed.”

The summer fairs

Despite the easing of restrictions, Shmueli said she wouldn’t be attending the Las Vegas trade shows. “We’ll probably go next year, but now it’s a little soon. In the last few years, we didn’t go as much anyway.”

She said she could find what she needed locally. “People don’t need to go to a show. We don’t need to have meetings in person. Things have shifted as far as the way people shop, and that translates to the shows and working remotely,” which has become more common.

Bredemeier is planning to attend JCK and the other Vegas fairs this year, in part to stock up on trending inventory items such as yellow gold.

“I haven’t been to a show in almost two years,” he commented. “I hear from my vendors that they’re not expecting big crowds, and I know friends of mine that aren’t going. But I think I need to go. You have to see what’s new and get a feel for prices. When you’re able to go to shows, you’re able to make better business buys.”

For his part, Buttars had no plans to travel.

“It’s insane to have JCK in one of the hottest places on earth in August,” he said. “I don’t want to deal with the heat, or with a rush of people who’ve been pent up.”

Fingers crossed

On the whole, retailers are optimistic about the future of their trade.

“I don’t know if there’s something specific that will say, ‘We’re fully back,’ but the jewelry industry [in general] fared well, because it’s a necessity, especially in bridal,” said Shmueli. “And people are planning their weddings again, and wanting to move forward with their lives.”

Bredemeier predicted a traditionally slow summer for south Florida, but he believes there will be some pent-up demand.

“Hopefully, that’ll continue for the rest of year,” he said. “I have my fingers crossed that that will happen.”

Because 2020 was such an anomaly sales-wise, he added, he’s taking a long view regarding whether his business is rebounding. “We’re not even looking at 2020 numbers. We look at 2019 numbers. When we hit 2019 numbers, we’ll be back.”

This article was first published in the July issue of Rapaport Magazine.

Image: A display in a jewelry store. (Shutterstock)
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Tags: Coronavirus, COVID-19, jewelers, Jewelry, Lara Ewen, retail, stores, US
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