ST. PAUL — Beginning a new year and new decade normally brings Minnesotans hope and a new focus on the opportunities that lie ahead. Coming into 2020, many of us believed it would be our best year yet. No one could have predicted a global health pandemic, a national recession and more political turmoil than most of us have seen in our lifetimes. For retailers especially, what began with strong economic optimism quickly turned into a year of hardships, uncertainty, and challenges.
Many retailers were shuttered for months as a result of COVID-19. Despite businesses in our state reopening gradually, as we continue to get a better understanding of the coronavirus, times remain tough, and businesses, especially small, are operating with limited capacity. It has certainly been extremely challenging to see retailers forced to close their doors for good. But the grit and resilience of our community across Minnesota is unmatched, and I have no doubt retailers will bounce back stronger than ever.
Within weeks, many retail locations began adapting to the COVID-19 environment, bolstering e-commerce and curbside pick-up and updating facilities to comply with social-distancing guidelines and proper health and safety protocols. Making up a significant portion of the state’s economy and with many retailers providing essential goods for the community, this industry understands its importance to the communities it serves. In fact, strong retail is important during all seasons, but especially in times of uncertainty, such as the conditions surrounding COVID-19.
Take for instance pharmacies and grocery stores. These businesses, from the first days of the pandemic, were open to the public, providing food, water, critical medications, and household supplies like disinfectant wipes and toilet paper. Risking their own health, retail business operators and their employees went to work each day to ensure their communities and neighbors had the essential goods they needed. Their efforts continue to be heroic.
Fortunately, retail businesses have the support of a strong supply chain, from manufacturers to distributors and warehouses, which also acted quickly to secure the products people needed to help retail businesses serve their customers.
The health care supply chain, in particular, continues to be under the most pressure. In the face of a global health pandemic, the entire industry experienced unprecedented demands for medications and supplies, especially during the beginning months. As hospitals continue to crowd with COVID-19 patients, pharmacies are becoming more important for patient care. Yet, despite the increased demands, pharmacy shelves remain stocked with critical medications for patients. And that is because of our nation’s wholesale distributors.
Wholesale distributors, the logistics arm of the health care supply chain, are no strangers to a crisis. Using their expertise from previous emergencies like natural disasters and their relationships across government and the health care industry, distributors broke down regulatory barriers and adapted to ensure the most impacted areas had the products they needed to fend off the virus and keep all patients healthy. They have the infrastructure to not only fulfill the daily health needs of Minnesotans, but they found the safest, most efficient ways to get medications and other pharmaceutical supplies to our pharmacies.
While 2020 has not been the year most of us thought it would be, there are many things for which we should be grateful. Retail locations and their supply-chain partners are working diligently to provide all customers with the products they want and need — despite extraordinary circumstances. No matter what the future holds, this commitment will continue.
Bruce Nustad is president of the St. Paul-based Minnesota Retailers Association (mnretail.org).