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Studying Omaha's 2020 retail scene

Posted at 10:38 AM, Feb 01, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-01 11:38:56-05

One Omaha brokerage company is taking a deeper look at the city's retail real estate market—one that has spent the last year battling the impacts of COVID-19.

This last summer, the Bike Union in downtown Omaha shifted their business model to keep their employees and customers safe from COVID-19.

"We required masks at all times. Inside, outside—no matter what," said employee Erick Alvarez.

They moved their business to the fresh air this summer to allow for social distancing.

But as the months grew colder, Alvarez said they were forced to adapt again.

"Of course, we couldn't have that in the wintertime so we took precautions by putting Plexiglas between us and the customers," he Alvarez.

Ben Meier with the Lerner Company studied the 2020 retail scene in Omaha, analyzing how businesses—like the Bike Union—adjusted and just how hard the market had been hit by the pandemic.

They found that when businesses adapted—they thrived.

"I’ll give a good example. There was a restaurant group that probably did 90%, maybe more of their business, in the restaurant itself. Almost immediately, they made a change...took a bunch of their dine-in area, started the construction process when everything was really, really down and turned it into a delivery model. Their volumes ended up going higher than before," said Meier.

On the flip side, Omaha businesses that did nothing were impacted negatively—like store closings, non-payment of rent and bankrupt filings.

Meier compares the current scene to the aftershock of the 2008 financial crisis.

"We were a higher vacancy rate in 2010 than we are today. There we were 13.6% and now we are 10.9%,” said Meier.

As for the Bike Union—they've remained open and believe their level of safety has kept regulars coming back for more.

"We keep it as safe as possible, sanitize everything as much as possible and pretty much just keep people safe,” said Alvarez.

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