For example, try to get an appointment for a nap soon. Nicholas Penna, owner / stylist of Salon Capri, which has locations in Boston, Dedham and Newton, said senior stylists are booked through the end of May.
Penna said the increase was due to older customers who have largely stayed away since the pandemic began in March 2020.
“I’ve had days when every single person sitting in my chair is fully vaccinated,” Penna said.
From February 1 through March 1, the number of restaurants in Massachusetts increased 37 percent, according to Paytronix Systems, a Newton software company that tracks spend at 30,000 restaurants across the country.
Andrew Robbins, CEO of Paytronix, said part of the increase was due to normal seasonality as the warmer weather attracts customers. What is notable to him, however, is that the recovery has not come at the expense of restaurant take-out, which saw a 29 percent increase over the same period.
Robbins said he didn’t expect any improvement to come anytime soon as most people in the state are still not fully vaccinated.
“I thought it would come later. . . in the May timeframe, ”said Robbins. “Much of it is an improved mood. People feel better about things. They are fed up with being in their cocoons. “
Of course, there is still a long way to go to recovery as companies operate under COVID-19 capacity constraints and downtown are still ghost towns due to ongoing remote working. And just as the crash of the pandemic was felt most strongly by lower-income workers, so is the upswing showing inequalities. Many hourly workers who have lost their jobs struggle to find work, while a large number of employees barely missed a beat when working remotely.
Employment in the state for workers who earn more than $ 60,000 a year has recovered almost entirely, but remains for those who make less than $ 27,000 a year, according to Opportunity Insights, a research project at the Harvard University, down 30 percent by early March.
In the meantime, different strains and rising infection rates, especially among younger people who aren’t waiting for the vaccine to live normally again, could bring us another setback. President Biden and Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, are nervously watching Europe close again and calling on states not to reopen too quickly and reintroduce masked mandates.
According to Alicia Sasser Modestino, associate professor of public policy, urban affairs and economics at Northeastern University, a major threat to recovering recovery is the reluctance of many people to get vaccinated.
“We’ll hit a wall at some point and advances in vaccines will stall,” she said.
For now, at least, the trends are good.
According to Google data, which tracks movement using location data for cellphones, people in Massachusetts are spending more time outside the home than they have ever done since October.
Consumer spending in the state was 10 percent above pre-pandemic levels in mid-March, driven by the increase in online and retail purchases in retail stores, data monitored by Opportunity Insights shows. According to economists, stimulus checks and improved unemployment benefits have put more money in the hands of low- and middle-income consumers.
And on Friday, the Department of Labor released a blockbuster employment report showing the U.S. economy created 916,000 jobs in March, most in seven months. Also in March, a Massachusetts small business recruitment index saw one of the largest one-month gains in the 20 states tracked by Paychex and IHS Markit.
“What you are seeing now is a strong recovery in the Northeast due to deep job losses in the pandemic,” said Jim Diffley, Executive Director of Economics at IHS Markit.
Pedro Aguirre, owner of Vanity Loft Salon in Mission Hill, is one of those small business owners looking for a job. Bookings have doubled in the past six weeks, and he wants to add a fourth stylist to keep up with demand.
One of Aguirre’s customers who recently returned is Kath Koval. The 64-year-old insurance specialist was due to visit in January after a month’s absence, but skipped the appointment as the virus raged over the winter.
“I didn’t need to have my hair cut and dyed when it looked like the virus was worse than before,” Koval said.
She got her first vaccine in February and the second on March 9th. A few weeks later she was back in Aguirre’s salon. She recently returned to the Natick Mall for the first time since the pandemic began and has planned two trips, one to New York City and another to the Jersey coast.
Now that she’s vaccinated, Koval said, going out is “really that much less stressful”.
Perhaps the surest sign of optimism is how many people are willing to have fun, whether they are vaccinated or not:
- Grand Circle Corp., which specializes in international travel in small groups for people aged 50 and over, booked 71,000 passengers for travel in late 2021-2023. While business is well below a typical year, the average weekly bookings in the last month are up 30 percent from the beginning of the year.
- Attendance at the eight Showcase Cinemas locations in Massachusetts has increased over the past few weeks. The chain had to extend show times to cope with the steady influx of moviegoers, although private screenings remain a popular option on the weekends. “Godzilla Vs. Kong,” which opened on Wednesday, is well on its way to becoming the biggest blockbuster since the pandemic began.
- It’s not uncommon for lines to form out the door on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights at the Boston Bowl in Dorchester. The league’s bowlers have also returned, as have bookings for small birthday parties.
“The energy is almost palatable,” said Colleen Fleming, director of marketing for the Boston Bowl and Boston Bowl-Hanover. “There’s an expectation from the community that they can come back, be safe, have fun, and have a little bit of normalcy.”
However, whether companies will become profitable themselves in 2021 remains an open question. Many continue to work under COVID-19 restrictions that prevent them from operating at full capacity. For example, to meet the state’s 6-foot social distancing requirement, the Boston Bowl blocks every other lane, and Showcase Cinemas limits cinemas to 50 percent attendance.
The recovery in downtown Boston remains slow as many people continue to work from home instead of returning to the office.
JointVentures’ business, which operates 10 physical therapy clinics in Massachusetts, is back at 75 to 80 percent of prepandemic, but there’s a clear split: suburban locations now see more customers than before the company closed in March 2020, while those in Boston and Cambridge always have fallen by around 50 percent.
“There has been a suburbanization of the workforce as people work from home,” said co-owner Dan Brownridge.
Still, Brownridge said he was optimistic that his city clinics would be back to business.
“The offices in the financial district may be 15 to 20 percent full, but our location there is about 60 percent full,” he said. “If only 60 percent of people return to the office, we’re fully booked. Life in the city is becoming much more lively again. “
While they may not be back at the office yet, some people are already hitting the gym looking to shed “quarantine 15” – the pounds that were added while working from home.
“We’re getting down right now,” said Julian Cardoos, owner of Rebirth Body Transformation Center, a personal training studio in Wakefield, citing the increase in old customers who have returned in recent weeks and new customers. “They want to be presentable when they see their employees for the first time.”
Beyond the bottom line, however, business owners are feeling that it is the changed attitudes of customers and employees that are making this time in the pandemic seem different.
“A hair salon is supposed to be a happy place,” said Penna, the owner of Salon Capri. “This has not been the case for a year. It’s nice to have that mood again. “