Neighborhood shops fight to stay afloat amid pandemic

More people are shopping online ever since COVID-19 pandemic forced nonessential businesses to close back in March, according to economist Martin Cantor.

"Nothing like a crisis to change people's habits," he said. "People will find online purchasing and activities are easier and more convenient than schlepping down to a brick-and-mortar store."

And it just got even easier. This week, Facebook launched its Shops feature as a way for businesses to set up free storefronts for customers to access both on Facebook and Instagram. 

"I think it's a smart idea," Cantor said. "They're going where I think the future of retail is going to be."

Nicole Panettieri, the owner of The Brass Owl, a feminine boutique in Astoria, Queens, said that online sales are keeping her store alive.

"It's keeping the lights on," she said. "It's a considerable drop in business so it's not something we could survive on but it's helping us get through this time."

Panettieri said online shopping has helped with expanding the store's reach. However, she looks forward to reopening when given the go-ahead as she said online isn't sustainable long term as the sole source of income.

"We feel like we've opened our base past Queens and New York City," she said. "Online will be an invaluable part of our business but it certainly won't be the bulk of the business."

Right now, the Facebook Shops feature is free for businesses to use. And developers are exploring ways for users to link loyalty programs with stores as a way to incentivize online shopping.


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