The retail industry was in the midst of a transformation before 2020. But the onset of the pandemic accelerated that change, fundamentally reordering how and where people shop, and rippling across the broader economy.
Many stores closed for good, as chains cut physical locations or filed for bankruptcy, displacing everyone from highly paid executives to hourly workers. Amazon grew even more powerful and unavoidable as millions of people bought goods online during lockdowns. The divide between essential businesses allowed to stay open and nonessential ones forced to close drove shoppers to big-box chains like Walmart, Target and Dick’s and worsened struggling department stores’ woes. The apparel industry and a slew of malls were battered as millions of Americans stayed home and a litany of dress-up events, from proms to weddings, were canceled or postponed.
This year’s civil unrest and its thorny issues for American society also hit retailers. Businesses closed because of protests over George Floyd’s killing by a white police officer, and they reckoned with their own failings when it came to race. The challenges faced by working parents, including the cost and availability of basic child care during the pandemic, were keenly felt by women working at stores from CVS to Bloomingdale’s. And there were questions about the treatment of workers, as retailers and their backers treated employees shoddily during bankruptcies or failed to offer hazard pay or adequate notifications about workplace Covid-19 outbreaks.
Many Americans felt the effects of the retail upheaval — the industry is the second-biggest private employment sector in the United States — and some shared their experiences this year with The New York Times.
‘That’s what I did my whole life’
Joyce Bonaime, a 63-year-old in Cabazon, Calif., has worked in retailing since the 1970s. In the past 14 months, she became one of many store employees whose lives were upended by bankruptcies — first at Barneys New York and more recently at Brooks Brothers.
Ms. Bonaime had spent about 10 years as a full-time stock coordinator for a Barneys outlet at Desert Hills Premium Outlets near her home, overseeing the shipping and receiving of designer wares, when the retailer filed for bankruptcy and liquidated late last year.
“Barneys treated people very badly at the end there,” Ms. Bonaime said. The retailer, she said, sent inconsistent messages about severance payments and the timing of store closures that limited people from finding other jobs just before the holiday shopping season.
After Barneys, Ms. Bonaime secured a full-time stockroom position at Brooks Brothers in the same outlet mall. But the pandemic forced the store to temporarily close in March, and she was furloughed. She anticipated returning once the store reopened this summer. But Ms. Bonaime’s job was terminated this month and she lost her health benefits. She is now collecting unemployment checks for the first time in her…
Read more:What 2020 Was Like for People in the Retail Industry