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Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

Because of the coronavirus and people's buying habits moving online, retail stores are closing everywhere — often for good.

Why it matters: Malls are going belly up. Familiar names like J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and J. Crew have filed for bankruptcy. Increasingly, Americans' shopping choices will boil down to a handful of internet Everything Stores and survival-of-the-fittest national chains.

Driving the news: A research report from UBS predicts that 100,000 brick-and-mortar U.S. retail stores will close by 2025, in a trend that started before the pandemic and has accelerated amid coronavirus-related shutdowns.

  • Indoor malls — which were turning into ghost towns even before the pandemic — are being converted into apartment complexes.
  • E-commerce has surged, even as stores reopen, as people are afraid of catching the virus in crowds and public spaces.
  • A relatively new retail model — buy online, pick up in-store — is gaining traction.

"Now that retailers are reopening, they're finding that they have to really look at their sales floor quite differently — it's about doing much more than just selling," says MJ Munsell, chief creative officer of MG2, a Seattle-based retail/architectural design company that counts Nordstrom, DSW and T.J. Maxx as clients.

  • "They're having to adopt curbside pickup, locker pickup, buy online/pick up in-store. They're also looking at converting the sales floor to more distribution," or internet sales fulfillment.

Signs of the times: Valentino, which sells $875 sandals and $3,290 minidresses, has sued its landlord to get out of the lease on its four-story boutique on Fifth Avenue in New York, which is two blocks south of Trump Tower, per WSJ.

  • The retail sector lost about 1.2 million jobs between March and June, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures released last week.

Many COVID-19 store closures that were supposed to be temporary will wind up being permanent. Among household names that have announced they're shuttering some stores for good: Nordstrom, Bath & Body Works, Gap, and Zara.

  • Microsoft plans to close all of its retail stores, a plan that "was originally in place for next year, but was accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic," according to The Verge.
  • Coresight Research, which tracks retail store openings and closings, projects that a record 25,000 stores will close in 2020 — up from its pre-pandemic estimate of 8,000. (The prior record was last year, when 9,800 stores closed.)

"Accelerated Darwinism" is how Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research, describes some of the retail bankruptcies of 2020 (not all of which resulted in widespread store closures). Fashion apparel has suffered the most.

  • "We speak to a lot of liquidators about what's in the hopper. The recent conversations we've had suggest that the pace of bankruptcies is going to rise significantly," Weinswig tells Axios.

Budget retailers Dollar General, Dollar Tree and Five Below are bucking the trend — they plan to open hundreds of stores.

  • Furniture and home furnishings are hot categories with so many people staying put, which means products are becoming scarce. "You can’t buy a patio set, because everybody’s vacation is right there in their backyard," Weinswig says.

In New York City, it's not just tourist hotspots like Times Square that are chockablock with "For Rent" signs and vacant (or boarded-up) storefronts. "Even before the pandemic hit, we had a genuine vacancy crisis" throughout the five boroughs, Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, tells Axios.

My thought bubble: The major retail corridor in my Manhattan neighborhood — East 86th Street — is practically unrecognizable. Gone for good are the Children's Place where I bought my kids' clothes and our local Barnes & Noble. Those losses feel like Piggy's glasses breaking in "Lord of the Flies" — a microcosm of a civilization's ruin.

Go deeper

The pandemic real estate market

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

It's not just emotional buying, real estate agents say: There are smart and strategic reasons that Americans of all ages, races and incomes are moving away from urban centers.

Why it matters: Bidding wars, frantic plays for a big suburban house with a pool, buying a property sight unseen — they're all part of Americans' calculus that our lives and lifestyles have been permanently changed by coronavirus and that we'll need more space (indoors and out) for the long term.

Why companies aren't paying more

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

If companies raised pay high enough, then maybe they wouldn’t complain about labor shortages that have forced them to forgo sales. But there seems to be a limit to how much a company is willing to pay, despite what seems like a clear opportunity to maximize the top line.

Why it matters: Companies have been scrambling to staff up amid a rapid economic recovery. Employers across industries have been raising wages in their efforts to be competitive.

Business travel might be going out of style

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Companies have made it a year and a half mostly without traveling for work — and now more and more of them are considering dramatically reducing business travel to slash costs and cut carbon emissions.

Why it matters: Business travel is a massive part of the global economy — with trillions of dollars and millions of jobs at airlines, hotels and travel agencies hinging on its return.