Wisconsin retail struggles to survive during pandemic

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) -- One of Wisconsin's largest employing sectors, retail, is in serious trouble.

Retail employs four times as many Wisconsinites as the dairy industry, according to data from the National Retailer Federation.

After March saw the largest national drop in retail sales on record, and J. Crew declared bankruptcy Monday, the Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers said the worst could still be on the way.

“The state of retail is not good, and it wasn’t good before the pandemic,” Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers spokesperson Scott Stenger said.

Marquette economic’s professor Abdur Chowdhury said retail was already weakened by the growth in online purchases, and the pandemic could be enough to push large portions of the industry over the edge.

“These stores are facing a serious problem, and you will see this trend continue," Chowdhury said. "There will be other retail stores which will file for bankruptcy in the coming days.”

The Alliance of Wisconsin Retailers said the impact on Wisconsin’s economy could be devastating, with Kohl’s headquartered in Menomonee Falls and Farm and Fleet headquartered in Janesville.

“They’re doing all they can to keep their employees, to service their customers," Stenger said. "But it is not easy, and the longer this goes, the more difficult it becomes for stores like Farm and Fleet and others to be able to survive.”

The alliance says they have a plan to reopen, and they hope to work with state leaders to make that happen as soon as possible.

“We are open to really anything we need to be able to do," Stenger said. "We think we’ve already have a template from other states to be able to do this."

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