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Even with COVID-19, Lafayette Parish's retail sales figures look strong

Despite seeing low sales activity in parts of 2020, Lafayette Parish could break retail sales records this year, owing in large part to significant gains in areas like food sales, home furniture sales and building material stores.

In April, Lafayette Parish's retail sales figures looked dire. Compared to 2019, sales dropped $72 million, or 16.2%, for the month and were down $89.8 million, or 4.5%, on the year. 

But through October, Lafayette Parish is in position to break its sales record, which was set in 2019. The parish has recorded $5.2 billion in sales so far in 2020 — only 0.1% from 2019's year-to-date total. 

"We have the opportunity to end 2020 on a positive note, after seeing such a big decline in retail activity in the spring," said Gregg Gauthreaux, the president and CEO of the Lafayette Economic Development Authority. "It’s heartening to see so many shoppers heeding the message to support and shop local this holiday season where we could see as much as $1 billion in taxable sales over November and December. This strong performance can provide positive momentum going into 2021 that may offset ongoing uncertainty caused by the pandemic and energy downturn."

Bouncing back from historic lows

At the end of April, Lafayette Parish had just seen the third-largest year-to-year decrease in sales for a single month in the parish's recorded history, dropping 13.9% from April 2019.

At the time, Lafayette — like much of the state and local governments across the nation — saw unemployment begin to skyrocket. In April, Lafayette Parish had more than 18,000 initial unemployment claims, according to the Louisiana Workforce Commission. The parish's unemployment rate jumped to 13.1% in April — the highest since at least 1991.

Like other local governments, Lafayette Consolidated Government began looking to make cuts to accommodate for the declining sales tax revenue. In early May, LCG Chief Financial Officer Lorrie Toups said she anticipated a 30% decline in revenue, which was about $10 million.

But it didn't take long for the picture to improve for Lafayette. While May 2020's sales were still $48.3 million, or 9%, below May 2019, they did improve by $45.1 million, or more than 10%, from April.

Unemployment also dropped to 12.3% in May, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. 

From June through October, Lafayette Parish saw its recovery begin in earnest. Over that five month period, all but one month beat out its 2019 counterpart, helping narrow the gap in its retail sale deficit. 

When October's retail sales figures were released, LEDA said it anticipated November and December would combine for $1 billion, which would be the third-highest total on record for the two months.

"It shows once again the resiliency of this region," said One Acadiana President and CEO Troy Wayman said. "We seem to be hitting our stride pretty well considering the headwinds we've been facing here in Acadiana."

Food sales, building materials leading the charge

Even in April and May, when COVID-19 restrictions were at their peak, it was clear some types of businesses would benefit from the pandemic, at least in terms of sales figures.

While nearly all categories of businesses have seen improvement since April, others have had strong showings for the entirety of 2020. Businesses like grocery stores and other food markets, furniture stores, and hardware and building material stores have experienced record sales figures so far in 2020, as the pandemic created runs on certain household items and forced many to shelter in place.

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