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Office space, shopping, work were changing before coronavirus, but the outbreak will leave its mark

Posted at 4:59 PM, May 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-01 21:17:56-04

As Ohio begins to slowly open back up again, a process that started today, the coronavirus could have a lasting impact on life in Northeast Ohio.

Changes in Retail

Before the coronavirus outbreak, shoppers were already ditching traditional, large, indoor malls and flocking online to buy much of what they need.

When shoppers did go out to buy, they preferred smaller outdoor malls that mimicked small downtowns, often stocked with specialty shops.

Retail before coronavirus and the advent of social distancing was about the feeling a place gives the shopper and less about the goods they’re trying to buy.

“Sure, it’s fabricated,” said David Simon while he worked at The Van Aken District Market Hall in late 2019. “It’s completely built in this little bubble, but I think it’s really attractive.”

Restaurants and bars have taken hits during the stay at home orders.

“Are you going to trust to go out to eat,” asked Billy, who lost his job as a cook. “Are you going to trust to bring your family out to eat?”

Billy says even after stay at home orders are relaxed, he isn’t sure customers will come back, further hindering any effort to hire back workers like him.

“I think if we can allay people’s fears, that it’s safe to be out there, and you can carry on with some precaution, then that’s going to matter in how we recover,” said National Retail Federation Chief Economist Jack Kleinhenz.

As more people sit at their screens for work and social interaction, business experts say the virus is only accelerating that no-touch experience.

Online retail companies like Amazon and Walmart are seeing revenues drastically increase at the expense of small businesses who remain closed down until at least May 12 in Ohio.

“And if they do come back, it will be different,” said Ashland University College of Business and Economics Dean Dr. Elad Granot. “It will be slower and it will be smaller.”

Granot says shoppers will see much more business consolidation with small and medium-sized stores coming together to compete.

“You know, Amazon, Costco, and Walmart are hiring more people, paying them more,” said Granot. “This is an amazing shift.”

Changes at Work

Before the coronavirus, more of Cleveland’s workforce was moving downtown, bolstered by the fact that Sherwin-Williams plans on turning three large empty parking lots into its brand new office complex.

Before the social distancing order, downtown workers like Wincy Wong were finding jobs downtown because it's more fun than when she first left Cleveland in 2012.

IMG_5349 2.JPG
Three parking lots on the top-right of the picture are slated to be turned into Sherwin-Williams' new headquarters. 55 Public Square is the reflective building they surround.

“I think that’s a big draw for young professionals. They want a place where they have access to everything,” said Wong.

Gyms, workout facilities and easy access to entertainment attracted companies like OpinionRoute to new office space in Post Office Plaza over a variety of spots in the suburbs because of its central location.

“Being in the middle of everything really allows us the opportunity to recruit talent from both sides of Cleveland,” said OpinionRoute CEO Terence McCarron.

Real estate experts say buildings that have extra features and amenities like new gyms and golf simulators are the ones with long wait-lists.

“People are stopping looking at offices as a place to put your jacket down and go to work,” said Newmark Knight Frank Vice Chairman Terry Coyne. “They’re now looking at it like, I want to recruit, I need a space that has amenities.”

But Ohioans have been working from home for more than a month and, for the most part, it’s been without too much of an issue.

Employees have adapted so well that businesses could start rethinking their physical buildings and see if they can save money by having more employees work from home more often.

“That would actually be less expenses for them, in terms of overhead, in terms of space and everything,” said Granot.

Granot says corporate headquarters and big office space projects could be in jeopardy. Hotels and conference centers will suffer as Zoom-like technology becomes more prevalent.

“If I don’t have to come down to give you an interview, I don’t have to fly to Chicago to talk to you about something,” said Granot.

But, companies are already telling News 5 that they plan on having employees eventually back under one roof.

Cleveland-based BoxCast is a company that helps other organizations live-stream events. Business has boomed during the outbreak while social distancing practices have drastically increased the demand for churches, businesses and other groups to reach employees and followers online.

“I don’t think everyone is going to stay remote permanently,” said BoxCast CEO Gordon Daily. “We love working together. We love seeing each other face to face and celebrating together.”

RELATED: Read more stories about the present and future of our economy at Rebound Northeast Ohio