The coronavirus pandemic has led to nationwide store closures that have hit apparel and retail especially hard, as public health officials warn people to avoid proximity to others, and California and New York issued guidelines to stay indoors.
As of Friday, the lion’s share of retailers have closed stores or reduced hours, as COVID-19 spikes in the U.S., where there are more than 16,000 confirmed cases of the contagious respiratory illness, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. Of those, more than 7,100 were in New York state alone, the tally said.
The sweeping store closures mean retailers are looking at a plunge in sales receipts that far surpass any usual levels of decline during down months under normal circumstances. Retailers and brands including Adidas, Patagonia and Urban Outfitters Inc. said they had temporarily closed stores and would pay workers for that time, while Brooks Brothers, which also closed stores in response to the pandemic, has encouraged store associates to seek unemployment.
The retail industry urged the Trump administration and Congress for policies to stanch the losses, asking for breaks on tariffs, rent, taxes and other expenses that they argue are squeezing companies during a prolonged economic catastrophe. Here are the industry’s policy asks:
In the shortage of sales revenues, retailers are drawing down funds from their lines of credit, a mark of the growing liquidity crisis for many. The Retail Industry Leaders Association has asked central bank regulators including the Federal Reserve to provide short-term financing, and to ensure that businesses have access to credit. The National Retail Federation has echoed this request.
The NRF also asked for a government-backed loan program to help tide businesses through during this period.
RILA and the NRF have expressed support for the Trump administration’s extension of the tax deadline by 90 days, but also asked it to bring back the net operating loss carryback program that allows businesses to apply a current year’s net operating losses to the previous year’s gains.
Some two dozen industry groups have sought tariff relief, including the American Apparel and Footwear Association, the NRF and RILA.
Specifically, they want the administration to remove tariffs on imports from China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, and which apply to products including clothing, footwear, travel products and textiles. As part of the emergency relief response, they also asked for a retroactive refund of duties on consumer goods and other imports from China. In 2019 alone, the apparel, footwear, fashion and travel goods industries paid more than $20 billion in tariffs, according to the AAFA.
The NRF called for a pause of some kind on mandatory defaults and foreclosures and instructions on rent abatement, as retailers struggle to pay bills, and attempt to figure out whether mandatory store closures can help them avoid having to pay rent.