Writer: Catie Schwartzman
2 min read May 2021 — Palm Beach has long been known as a retail oasis. After the COVID-19 pandemic’s e-commerce boom suggested an end for many brick and mortar stores, in-person retailers braced for the spring season. However, between the helpful influx of new Florida residents, visitors and long-time residents alike seeking an outlet and a wardrobe refresh, retail has surged and people are again walking Palm Beach’s shopping strips.
“It has been amazing. This was our best March in the last 20 years. There is a lot of pent-up demand,” said Michael Maus, owner of Maus & Hoffman, to Palm Beach Illustrated. Maus & Hoffman has sold menswear in Palm Beach for over 60 years.
Maus noted that things really started picking back up in early November and that South Florida fared far better than other regions with further restrictions and less temperate weather.
“The season was definitely better than expected,” said Maus. “From our perspective we planned for some very dire things … We are lucky to be here in South Florida and not in another market that is more locked down.”
Shoppers browsing storefronts in South Florida are looking for an experience that counters the stuffiness of COVID-19. For in-person retail to survive, the industry is trending toward revitalized or new brick-and-mortar stores and al fresco corridors. For many retailers, pursuing an omnichannel approach of e-commerce and in-person retail is an appealing reaction to the post-COVID landscape.
In a twist not short on irony, one of the most notable extensions of this trend is solely e-commerce retailers testing out brick and mortar storefronts in Palm Beach.
Nantucket Whaler, a nautical-themed lifestyle company, opened a pop-up location through April. A pop-up location for Solid & Striped, which sells swimwear, apparel and accessories, is open through May 31. Both of these companies are extensions of Leap, a data-driven platform that supports primarily internet-born, direct-to-consumer labels. Leap’s current approach is similar to several mostly online retailers; clusters of experiential pop-up locations are arriving to cities nationwide.
Meanwhile, many companies are continuing previously held omnichannel approaches with new locations in Palm Beach. Palm Beach gained a new Urban Outfitters location in Rosemary Square in addition to 10,622-square-foot West Elm that is due to open this summer.
Nonetheless, some retail real estate properties in Palm Beach are at a loss for how to proceed after struggling through COVID-19. Major shopping corridor State Road 7 has an uncertain future. Royal Palm Beach officials are debating whether to repurpose the retail center for residential housing or to revitalize it. Village Manager Ray Liggins is hesitant to convert the property to residential, as commercial opportunities or retail are still real despite changes.
“We know commercial’s changing, but we know it’s not going away, so we want to be careful,” Liggins said to the Palm Beach Post. “We know once (commercial property) changes to residential, it seldom comes back. Before we make that change, we’re stepping carefully.”
Dana Little, urban design director for the Treasure Coast council, wants to get people out of their cars, which aligns with post-COVID retail trends. With State Road 7’s location, that will be a challenge.
“There’s a lot of interest regionally in figuring out ways to get people out of their cars,” Little said to the Palm Beach Post. “Okeechobee Boulevard and State Road 7 corridors are not fun places to be. It’s miserable. It’s dangerous, and the land uses are kind of locked to be automobile-oriented.”
With e-commerce’s strength, brick and mortar retail’s future in Palm Beach is dependent on diversified channels and a walkable, leisure-focused in-person presence.