P.E.I. retail roars into 2021, with March figures continuing trend

·2 min read
Even clothing retail, one of the slowest subsectors to recover, is on the way back. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)
Even clothing retail, one of the slowest subsectors to recover, is on the way back. (Jessica Doria-Brown/CBC - image credit)

Most P.E.I. retailers are seeing sales well above levels before the pandemic, according to a report released by Statistics Canada Friday morning.

The retail sales report for March shows P.E.I. retail sales, seasonally adjusted, climbed quickly in the early months of this year.

Since the crash at the beginning of the pandemic last spring, the recovery has been uneven, with clothing retailers facing the hardest climb back to where they were. The Statistics Canada report shows clothing retailers down only slightly in January and February, compared with the same months in 2020.

"We're getting there. It's coming along. The local support has been fantastic," said Philip Tweel, owner of Island Activewear in Charlottetown.

Tweel said people are growing more comfortable about shopping during the pandemic, particularly given the relatively light impact on P.E.I. And, he said, there may be some pent-up demand.

"We can't live in our sweatpants forever, you know what I mean? So it's time to kind of switch them out and move into some fresher goods," he said.

Clothing sales were still well below normal when overall retail sales reached pre-pandemic levels in September on P.E.I. Other sectors, in particular those connected with home improvement — furniture, building supplies, electronics — were making up the difference.

Those subsectors are still driving growth in retail, with electronics up 21 per cent, furniture up 30 per cent, and building supplies up more than 40 per cent. As sales are measured in dollars, rising prices for building materials would be adding to the growth of that subsector.

For most of 2020, retail sales patterns followed the national trend pretty closely, but that changed in 2021.

Growth on P.E.I. leapt ahead of Canada in January and February, and held steady in March.

Retail sales on the Island in March were 120 per cent of what they were in January 2020. Across Canada, that figure was 112 per cent.

More from CBC P.E.I.