National Retail Federation hosts virtual ‘store tours’ for lawmakers amid coronavirus

The National Retail Federation (NRF) connected small business owners with members of Congress virtually to discuss challenges as the industry works to bounce back from the economic fallout from the coronavirus. 

NRF, the largest retail trade association, hosted House Small Business Committee Chairwoman Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Ann Cantrell, owner of Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store in Velázquez’s district in Brooklyn, for a store tour over Zoom on Wednesday.

The tour came at the heels of the Census Bureau announcement on Tuesday that retail sales soared over 17 percent in May, compared to the over 14 percent dive they took in April.

Cantrell, whose store sells puzzles, toys, and other gifts, said the rent is $11,000 a month and she was approved for a Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan in May.

Velázquez noted in their conversation that more needs to be done quickly for the economy to continue to bounce back. 

“[W]e are not where we need to be and we need to have a national strategy otherwise we’re going to have band aids,” the congresswoman said.

She held a hearing earlier on Wednesday on loan forgiveness and other challenges with the PPP and said it was “quite telling.”

“We knew that there were some issues still and we need to go and revise it to decide whether or not we’re going to be making more changes to the PPP program,” she said.

Cantrell noted other challenges she’s faced during New York’s reopening, including the cost of providing personal protective equipment for employees and hand sanitizer.

A store tour — when a store owner shows their member of Congress around the brick and mortar — is a staple event of NRF that has been unable to continue due to coronavirus concerns. The federation kicked off virtual store tours on May 27 with Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) talking to Smoke Stack Hobby Shop’s owners in Lancaster, Ohio.

“It helps us personalize and localize the issues that small businesses and retailers are facing. Members of Congress aren’t meeting with their constituents in their offices anymore. We can serve as a platform for that kind of engagement,” David French, NRF senior vice president of government relations, told The Hill.

NRF has hosted other virtual store tours with Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.), who toured Stowe Mercantile in Stowe, Vt., Rep. Elaine Luria (D-Va.), who toured Garden Gazebo in Virginia Beach, and Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Ohio), who toured Flynn’s Tire and Auto Service in Kent, Ohio.

The trade association plans on continuing them regularly into the foreseeable future.

“They’re very effective in communicating the value of retail in the community and the ecosystem around them,” French said. “This is our way as public policy advocates of helping bridge the gap from the crisis back to normal.” 

Tags Elaine Luria national retail federation National Retail Federation Paycheck Protection Program Peter Welch retail small businesses Steve Stivers Tim Ryan

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