"March was a record-breaking month for us here. We actually beat our aggressive sales goals by 34%," said Amber Brennan, the owner of Rose & Lee Co. in Apex.
The boutique has benefitted from recently relaxed capacity restrictions, and capitalizing off a continued presence on social media, fueled in large part by necessity during the pandemic.
"We had a lot of people coming in saying they had made a conscious effort to spend their stimulus locally. So a lot of people were utilizing that to help local businesses," said Brennan, referring the $1,400 stimulus checks many received as part of the American Rescue Plan.
Pent up demand to return to routines, including traveling, shopping and eating in-person, also bringing more customers into her store.
"There's definitely this sense of hope and sense of there's a light at the end of the dark tunnel. So with our continued efforts to social distance to wear masks, and then with people getting vaccinated, that's making people more and more confident to start venturing out," said Brennan.
The recent surge in vaccinations isn't just helping retailers--restaurateurs like Charles Winston Jr., who owns Winston's Grille in Raleigh, are also seeing business increase.
"We're getting a lot of customers that have had their second immunization shot and so they're coming in saying, 'you know, we haven't been here in a year, we just finished our two weeks since our last vaccination so we're back, and we're happy to be back," Winston said.
Winston, who said March was his best month since the beginning of the pandemic, noted the expansion from 50% to 75% indoor capacity has not made much of a difference due to social distancing requirements, but he is hopeful that increasing vaccinations will help drive up consumer confidence, as he works to staff full dining rooms.
"The flow of applicants is just very low. We all, all restaurants now are hiring. Everybody's trying to hire up to get ready not only for the summer, but for the release of the 75% to 100%," said Winston.
North Carolina State University economics professor emeritus Dr. Michael Walden said he's even feeling the effects in his own family.
"My wife and I (are vaccinated, and) our confidence in going out has improved dramatically. We're both going to our gyms. We had our first out-of-home, sit-down restaurant dinner last weekend," Walden said.
Nationally, a jobs report released Friday noted the US added 916,000 jobs, its highest amount since August, and unemployment dropped to six percent. Friday morning, President Joe Biden addressed the numbers.
"The progress that we worked so hard to achieve can be reversed. On the economic front, the benefits and the impact of the American Rescue Plan are temporary by design. It is a rescue plan. But as we get the economy back on its feet, we need to do the hard work of building back better," said Biden.
March saw the highest number of vaccinations nationally, helping allow states to loosen limitations. Through Thursday morning, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports 21.7% of adults are fully vaccinated, and an additional 16.7% of adults are partially vaccinated. Here in North Carolina, through Wednesday, 23.5% of adults are fully vaccinated, and another 13% are partially vaccinated.
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"Of course many states, including North Carolina have relaxed their restrictions, and then the stimulus money is starting to flow. And that's giving people a boost in terms of spending. I think employers and businesses are expecting that to result in a major increase in spending. So we've got everything working together," said Walden.
As the state operates on a "dimmer-switch" approach based off risk, certain businesses have been able to return to full capacity while others are still limited. Winston is hoping as vaccinations increase, restaurants will be able to return to full capacity.
"We're hoping it would be somewhere end of May, first of June where they would let us go back to 100%, because it's still highly stressful. Trying to operate with your arm tied behind your back is not a lot of fun. It's been a rough year, and we'd love to get back to normal sooner rather than later," he said.
While the overall report was promising, Walden did point to a couple areas of concerns.
"We are not back to where we were pre-pandemic. We're well above the pre-pandemic unemployment rate (3.5%). We're still short on number of jobs. One of the disappointing statistics: people who have been unemployed a long period of time, long-term unemployed, that didn't budge in March. So that tells me, there's still some issues with the job market," he said.
Areas that saw job growth in March include leisure and hospitality, education, and construction.