COVID-19

Lots of parents hold off on back-to-school shopping

Marielle Segarra Jul 10, 2020
Heard on: Marketplace
HTML EMBED:
COPY
French schoolchildren wearing protective gear attend class in May. Will this year's purchases include face masks and hand sanitizer along with notebooks and pencils? Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images
COVID-19

Lots of parents hold off on back-to-school shopping

Marielle Segarra Jul 10, 2020
French schoolchildren wearing protective gear attend class in May. Will this year's purchases include face masks and hand sanitizer along with notebooks and pencils? Damien Meyer/AFP via Getty Images
HTML EMBED:
COPY

Back-to-school shopping is never easy for the Heritsch family.

It’s a big group: seven kids.

There’s 13-year-old Madeleine, 11-year-old Eleanor, 9-year-old Oliver, 7-year-old Theodore, 5-year-old Ameleia, 3-year-old Julian and 3-month-old Penelope.

If this were a normal year, the family would pile into the van — a 12-seater — and head to the Kohl’s near their town in Wisconsin.

“They would walk around and say, I want to get this, this, and this, and then we’d make them try it on,” said Paul Heritsch, their dad. “It’s a big event.”

Can you imagine it now?

“To keep all the kids wearing their masks and away from other people and not yelling to leave the store all at once — I expect it to be a big challenge.”

So they’re holding off for now because they’re also waiting to hear whether school will even happen in person this year.

The back-to-school season is one of the most important sales periods for retailers. But what does that mean when nobody knows if kids are actually going back to school in person?

In California, Jennifer Aldrich is taking the opposite approach. Her son, Devin, is 12 and goes to private school. He has grown a couple of inches during the pandemic and needs new uniforms, so she bought them recently for $700.

Even if school is remote this year, Devin’s uniform is made up of staple items, like khakis and white polo shirts. “So he could still wear them [at home] — if I can get him to,” she said.

Aldrich also bought supplies: pens, markers and notebooks. “I was concerned that if I didn’t do it now that there would be some sort of run on it,” she said.

Fair enough. We all remember the toilet paper shortages.

Janelle Domeyer in Nebraska sends her 14-year-old twin boys to private school too, but she’s in a different situation. Money is tight, and their school clothes will cost her about $350, so she’s waiting.

“As a single parent, I do the best I can with what I have,” Domeyer said. “And we’re not like hurting for anything, but $350 is quite a bit to set aside just for clothing and another $200, maybe, just for supplies.”

Meanwhile, in California, Kelly Hunsucker was at Target the other day and saw sales associates taking down the summer displays and putting out back-to-school supplies.

“I had to laugh,” Hunsucker said.

She’s not sending her three kids back to their schools, even if they are open. 

“It seemed almost tone-deaf. And I know, Target, they have to, right? They have to operate like things may go back to normal.”

She’s right. At this point, retailers have already stocked up. Their only hope is that parents will buy the stuff. 

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Are states ready to roll out COVID-19 vaccines?

Claire Hannan, executive director of the nonprofit Association of Immunization Managers, which represents state health officials, said states have been making good progress in their preparations. And we could have several vaccines pretty soon. But states still need more funding, she said. Hannan doesn’t think a lack of additional funding would hold up distribution initially, but it could cause problems down the road. “It’s really worrisome that Congress may not pass funding or that there’s information circulating saying that states don’t need additional funding,” she said.

How is the service industry dealing with the return of coronavirus restrictions?

Without another round of something like the Paycheck Protection Program, which kept a lot of businesses afloat during the pandemic’s early stages, the outlook is bleak for places like restaurants. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area, for example, only got one week of indoor dining back before cases rose and restrictions went back into effect. Restaurant owners are revamping their business models in an effort to survive while waiting to see if they’ll be able to get more aid.

How are hospitals handling the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases?

As the pandemic surges and more medical professionals themselves are coming down with COVID, nearly 1 in 5 hospitals in the country report having a critical shortage of staff, according to data from the Department of Health and Human Services. One of the knock-on effects of staff shortages is that people who have other medical needs are being asked to wait.

Read More

Collapse

As a nonprofit news organization, our future depends on listeners like you who believe in the power of public service journalism.

Your investment in Marketplace helps us remain paywall-free and ensures everyone has access to trustworthy, unbiased news and information, regardless of their ability to pay.

Donate today — in any amount — to become a Marketplace Investor. Now more than ever, your commitment makes a difference.