P.E.I. March retail sales show winners and losers in pandemic

P.E.I. joined the rest of the country in the largest single-month drop in retail sales on record in March.

Overall sales drop double digits

While some retail outlets suffered, grocery stores were busy, and struggled to keep some items in stock. (Tracy Lightfoot/CBC)

P.E.I. joined the rest of the country in the largest single-month drop in retail sales on record in March.

Statistics Canada released its retail sales report for March Friday morning.

Stores across Canada closed their doors to shoppers in mid-March, under public health orders to prevent the spread of COVID-19. On P.E.I. only stores deemed essential — grocery and hardware — remained open, with others only able to offer delivery and curbside pickup.

Consequently, retail sales were 10.8 per cent lower in Canada in March as compared to the previous year. The drop on P.E.I. was similar, at 11.1 per cent.

But the overall decline disguised differences in results between retail sectors, and between what happened on P.E.I. and what happened in the rest of Canada.

Both jurisdictions had some losers in common, most notably those related to the automobile sector — dealers and gas stations — and clothing retailers.

Clothing sales were cut in half, vehicle sales 30 to 40 per cent, and gas station sales were three quarters what they had been the year before.

But there were some winning sectors as well. Food and beverage sales were up about 20 per cent nationally and on the Island. While building material and garden centre sales were largely flat across the country, they were up 17.4 per cent on P.E.I.

And while furniture and home furnishings fell by about a quarter in the country as a whole, they were down only 8.5 per cent on P.E.I.

Sales were down in every province and territory, but varied widely. In Saskatchewan and Newfoundland and Labrador it was less than two per cent, but in Quebec sales fell more than 15 per cent.

Stores on P.E.I. remained closed through April and most of May, but were allowed to reopen Friday with Phase 2 of the easing of pandemic restrictions.

More from CBC P.E.I.


Kevin Yarr is the early morning web journalist at CBC P.E.I. You can reach him at


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