P.E.I. topped country in retail growth in August

P.E.I.’s retail sales took a big jump in August, but they still have a way to go before they reach pre-pandemic levels. And at least one sector lags behind the rest.

Clothing exception to trend: ‘My main goal is just to break even this year’

Retailers are having to adjust during the pandemic. For example, Little Black Dress Co. of Summerside is putting more pictures of its products online. (Little Black Dress Co.)

P.E.I.'s retail sales took a big jump in August but they still have a way to go before they reach pre-pandemic levels.

Sales were up seven per cent for the month, seasonally adjusted. Nationally, sales rose just 0.4 per cent in August.

P.E.I. is also doing better than the country at large for the year to date, with sales down only 3.2 per cent, compared to 5.4 per cent nationally.

But not all sectors are enjoying the relative good news. Clothing retailers in particular are suffering, with sales down a third on P.E.I., about the same position clothing retailers find themselves in nationally.

Jim Cormier, Atlantic director for the Retail Council of Canada, says there are a couple of reasons clothing retailers in particular are having a difficult time.

"Most people are still working from home, either completely or more than they ever did during the pandemic, so there's maybe less need for them to buy work clothing, for lack of a better word. There's a lot of people working in sweatpants all day long," said Cormier.

"On top of it, of course, there's also been stiff competition in that sector from e-commerce players."

Finding support

Shawna Perry launched Little Black Dress, a consignment shop in Summerside, in February, only to have to close it a little over a month later. She reopened with pandemic restrictions in place in May.

"My main goal is just to break even this year," said Perry. "Get through this year and move on to next year."

Perry said business during the pandemic is better than she expected. She's been getting great local support, and was seeing shoppers from off the Island in July and August.

She's also been finding support from other retailers, such as Mary Beth Campbell at Luxury Market Consignment in Charlottetown.

"I talk to her every single day to see what new innovative things she's coming up with to keep revenues up," said Perry.

"We're all just trying to help one another keep going."

Anxious shoppers

Changes became necessary just recently, Perry said, with the spike in COVID-19 cases in New Brunswick. Foot traffic slowed in her store.

"I've got a lot more messages on Facebook and a lot more phone calls saying, like, 'I'm feeling anxious again about going out and about shopping,'" said Perry.

She is doing what she can to accommodate customers, putting more pictures of items up on her Facebook page, and sending photos of products to people on request.

Online sales have expanded, and she's also setting up after-hours appointments for customers who feel more comfortable when they have the store to themselves.

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Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. Kevin has a specialty in data journalism, and how statistics relate to the changing lives of Islanders. He has a BSc and a BA from Dalhousie University, and studied journalism at Holland College in Charlottetown. You can reach him at