SANTA FE – With the coronavirus surging in New Mexico, more retail stores are shutting down in-person sales ahead of a holiday shopping season that’s critical for business.
Some stores are closing their doors to customers indefinitely because of changes to a state health order aimed at shrinking a loophole for big-box stores. Others have shut down for at least two weeks after staff members tested positive for COVID-19.
New Mexico this week implemented one of the strictest lockdowns in the country, attempting a “reset” on the outbreak, with closures extending to all restaurants and many other businesses. The vast majority of schools also are closed as the state of 2 million residents sees record COVID-19 cases, including a high of more than 2,800 cases reported Wednesday.
As of Thursday, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham tightened a loophole in the health order, allowing big-box stores to remain open as long as they offer essential goods and services.
The governor has been criticized for allowing chain stores like Walmart to allow in-person customers for nonessential purchases like TVs, along with essential ones like groceries, while small businesses selling only nonessential goods can’t open.
Under the updated order, essential goods like food and animal feed now must account for more than one-third of a store’s revenue for it to allow customers inside. Bike stores and mechanic shops can stay open, as long as transportation-related goods and services make up half or more of their revenue.
State officials named Hobby Lobby and Ross Dress for Less as examples of stores that would have to end indoor sales for now. Curbside sales and delivery are allowed.
Some other big-box stores are closed, but not because of the definitions in the health order.
Walmart Supercenters in Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Las Cruces were told to close Wednesday after more than four staff members who were in the stores over a two-week period tested positive for COVID-19, the New Mexico Environment Department said.
A Target in Santa Fe has been closed since Nov. 13.
Those stores could reopen after two weeks, in time for some holiday sales.
“When the store reopens, in addition to continuing with all our preventive measures, (we) will test associates in this store, as we are doing with all of our workers in New Mexico,” said Walmart spokeswoman Anne Hatfield. “We have protocols in place to help ensure compliance with the requirements of New Mexico health and safety orders, and we will continue working with local and state officials as they work to manage this health crisis.”
Hatfield said grocery sales generally make up about 50% of Walmart’s business.
Meanwhile, the website for outdoor recreation retailer REI showed stores in Santa Fe and Albuquerque were open.
Both locations include a bike shop that counts as an essential service under the health order, but it’s unclear how much of their revenue comes from that section of the store.
REI is considered an essential business, spokeswoman Halley Knigge said, citing its bicycle shop.
“Beyond bicycles, outdoor apparel and gear, the co-op also sells emergency supplies, food, emergency cooking, water filtration,” Knigge said.
Knigge did not respond to questions about whether the breakdown of REI’s revenue allows it to be open under the updated health order and how restrictions could affect holiday sales.
“We recognize the unique role we play in helping our members and customers get outside,” Knigge said. “We believe operating a limited capacity is a way for us to safely serve our members and customers.”