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Tampa Bay retailers outpacing the nation in COVID recovery, report says

The region is among the top metros in the U.S. to buy retail property, according to the Urban Land Institute.
A look at Grand Central at Kennedy in Tampa last week. Retail business in Tampa Bay is recovering at a faster rate than the rest of the nation, according to new data from the real estate firm Franklin Street.
A look at Grand Central at Kennedy in Tampa last week. Retail business in Tampa Bay is recovering at a faster rate than the rest of the nation, according to new data from the real estate firm Franklin Street. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Oct. 28
Updated Nov. 13

It’s been more than a year and a half since the coronavirus was first detected in Florida and stores had to adjust to stay in business amid the global public health crisis.

But the stressors of the pandemic are seemingly in the rearview for a number of Tampa Bay businesses, as many are performing as well as they did before COVID-19, if not better, according to a report from Franklin Street, a Tampa-based commercial real estate firm. The report also found that Tampa Bay’s retail industry is outpacing the nation in coronavirus recovery.

Part of that has to do with Florida policies, which kept businesses open through much of the pandemic, and spurred people moving into the state, as well as the back-to-back sports championships of the Tampa Bay Bucs and Lightning franchises, Franklin Street analysts told the Tampa Bay Times. Even while the delta variant slowed the pace, Florida continued to outperform much of the rest of the country.

Related: At St. Pete Pier, local businesses thrive despite the pandemic

Foot traffic around retailers nearly reached pre-COVID levels when the vaccine became readily available to Floridians in late March, cellphone location data from Placer.ai showed. It dipped slightly during the delta variant’s surge, but has been gradually on the rise again.

Hillsborough County shopping and dining trips recovered by 97 percent in September. Pinellas County was up 95 percent and Pasco saw the largest rebound, with foot traffic up 103 percent. Local spas and beauty shops saw some of the largest gains and surpassed pre-pandemic traffic levels, according to Franklin Street.

“It’s a national trend. People are definitely wanting to care for themselves more, and they’re willing to spend more money on themselves,” said Alex Wright, the senior director of retail for Franklin Street.

A look at Grand Central at Kennedy in Tampa last week. Retail business in Tampa Bay is recovering at a faster rate than the rest of the nation, according to new data from the real estate firm Franklin Street.
A look at Grand Central at Kennedy in Tampa last week. Retail business in Tampa Bay is recovering at a faster rate than the rest of the nation, according to new data from the real estate firm Franklin Street. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Salon GW in Dunedin doubled its staff since the start of the pandemic, said owner Gregory Brady, who also serves as chairman of Dunedin’s Chamber of Commerce. The salon is expanding its hours to accommodate more business, he said.

“We are back up and running on all cylinders — and have been since we reopened,” Brady said.

When the salon first reopened after statewide shutdowns last year, Brady said locals came out in droves to support his business. After being stuck at home for so long, Brady said he’s seeing more people willing to splurge on themselves and escape pandemic stresses.

The return of weddings has also been a major driver of new business, Brady said. After many were postponed, Brady said he has more appointments for nuptials not only on the typical Saturdays and Sundays but on weekdays, too.

Other than spa and beauty shops, retailers specializing in fitness, groceries, home improvement, medical and health supplies are experiencing solid recovery, according to Franklin Street.

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The Tampa Bay metro area is ranked among the top five emerging markets for real estate, according to a report from the Urban Land Institute, for strong growth, homebuilding outlook, affordability and job prospects.

Related: How Tampa and Orlando could become the next ‘megaregion’

“I honestly have not seen a market like this,” said Brian Bern, managing director of retail with Franklin Street. He said there’s an influx of franchises, both new and existing, with interest in expanding into Tampa Bay. “This is unlike any boom I’ve seen.”

Despite the economic slowdown, condominium and apartment complexes are continuing with construction on both sides of the bay. Many of these complexes are outfitted with retail and office space opportunities, too. Analysts say there is more demand than space available in Tampa Bay.

That’s one reason why the Grand Central on Kennedy, a 392-unit condo complex in Tampa’s Channel District with a CVS Pharmacy and Crunch Fitness on its ground-floor level, is listed for sale, according to agents with Colliers International, the firm listing the property.

While many sectors have seen solid growth in 2021, traffic in restaurants, apparel stores, hotels and casinos still lag, according to data from Franklin Street. The delta variant hurt the service industries the most, said Wright with Franklin Street. The ongoing labor and supply-chain shortages are challenges retailers will continue to see going forward, at least in the short term.