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Greatest gift of all would be the return of retail

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To say New Jersey's retail industry has been a tough one to forecast in recent years is putting it mildly.

Consumer confidence has been shot with more holes than a rural stop sign in a town full of bored teenagers with BB guns. Big-box stores, long a point of strength in the Garden State's wealthy suburbs, have faltered. The slow pace at which the Legislature addressed the tax advantages of online retailers — and the rapid pace with which lawmakers considered potentially crippling measures such as minimum-wage increases and mandatory paid sick leave — put plenty of bricks-and-mortar operations in danger of being liquidated.

However, judging by the most recent news, it seems as if there's good news in store for shops around the state. While the Christmas shopping season got off to a later-than-usual start, owing to a quirk of the calendar, the early numbers have been fairly positive — all the consumer grumbling about certain shops opening their doors on Thanksgiving apparently did nothing to keep Americans from loosening their purse strings along with their belts. Small Business Saturday, celebrated Nov. 30, doesn't have the kind of tracking metrics that Black Friday does, but several North Jersey downtowns reported increased traffic.

One of the most telling signs, though, concerns those aforementioned big boxes. As NJBIZ reported last week, rising demand for major retail spaces is powering a comeback in a sector that many left for dead following the recession. The talk has instead turned to whether New Jersey can capitalize on such demand, given that large spaces of land in North Jersey are as scarce as big-screen TVs on the shelves by noon the day after Thanksgiving.

And while the industry has had plenty to dislike in Trenton, the way New Jersey managed to reach an accord with Amazon.com over the collection of sales taxes is especially worth mention here, given how nastily this fight has played out in New York and elsewhere. Fittingly enough, the Supreme Court announced on Cyber Monday it wouldn't rule on the matter, meaning states will likely be able to collect the sales tax from Web-based retailers, but those states didn't cut a deal with Amazon that will bring hundreds of jobs to a pair of new fulfillment centers.

Retail may not be the economic driver of, say, tourism, but it's still a critical engine. It's great news to see it going in high gear as the crucial Christmas season gets underway, and we hope the season is the start of a time of renewed strength for the industry.

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