Retail

Massachusetts: Frozen Growth In The Frozen North

New Englanders are known nationwide for several things: a stoic disposition, a fondness for chowders, a congenital love of wool and a weird horror at the letter “r.” And nowhere in the region are these qualities more on display than in Massachusetts, the state that both brought us the phrase “Boston Strong” and countless memes of people barbecuing during blizzards. And this is a good thing, since growth has been less than on fire of late.

By The Store Front Numbers

The vagaries of the New England economy show up, encapsulated, in Massachusetts. The overall region was up 2.3 percent and so was the state, from the second quarter of last year to the second quarter of this year.

The rate that was identical for both Massachusetts and its New England brethren was endemic of the Northeast. The Northeast itself saw the least impact from store fronts, where the actual growth in jobs was rather anemic at about 1.4 percent, with much more torque taken from the growth in wages, at 3.5 percent, and in employees, at 2.3 percent, which indicates that there has been at least some optimism going forward as store fronts beef up both the number of staffers at physical locations and the wages paid to keep them in place.

On The Ground

The store front merchants we spoke to in our own backyard in and around the state of Massachusetts have clearly been feeling the sluggish store front economy pretty acutely.

“Oh, God, the last, I don’t know, 10 years have been a perfect storm of bad news,” said Henry Dunbar, owner of the Brant Rock Fish Market out of Marshfield, Massachusetts. Dunbar has been at the market for the last 50 years.

“Fuel costs are down now, but the last couple of years just killed businesses around here. I’ve seen a lot of independently owned [businesses] here by the beach just get bought out.”

Dunbar noted that, apart from high fuel costs over the last few years, businesses have also faced building materials going up in price, tax increases and “no meaningful access to capital” — a refrain that became incredibly familiar the more places we traveled.

Chris Gerhardt, owner of a Salem area dance studio — a store front business if there ever was one — concurred, noting that the challenge of the last few years has been multifaceted.

“I don’t think it is any one problem; it’s more been a collection of things that have been hitting one, after the other, after the other. The economy is wrecked, then it’s better, but we don’t recover as many of our customers, then there’s just terrible weather for what felt like five straight years. At this point, I think you’re going to find a lot of business owners who are just waiting and worrying about, you know, ‘now what?’”

We also noted a trend in MA that we started noting in our previous jaunts to Virginia, South Carolina and New Hampshire. Though business owners were hesitant to name any particular candidate they were supporting — with many saying they would hold off on a firm decision until after the primaries — more than half of those we spoke to did mention Donald Trump and his business experience as a positive.

And this pattern held up even in Massachusetts — arguably one of the nation’s bluer bastions — with 19 of the 34 businesses we spoke to the weekend before the Super Tuesday primary noting that though they largely disagree with Trump stylistically and on some policy questions, they did believe he would be the best candidate for business owners.

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