Jobs and the Future of Work

Mapping the uneven recovery of America's small businesses 

Businesses in the retail and nightlife categories also saw more than half of closures become permanent. Image: Unsplash

Nick Routley
Creative Director and Writer, Visual Capitalist
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United States

  • COVID-19 has caused thousands of small businesses to shut across America, some partially and others now permanently.
  • New data from Opportunity Insights reveals that geography makes a great deal of difference in the proportion of U.S. small businesses that have closed.
  • The areas most affected include San Francisco, New Orleans and Honolulu.
  • But some cities are seeing rates of small business operation that are nearing pre-pandemic levels.

Small businesses are the backbone of the U.S. economy, employing nearly half of the private sector workforce.

Unfortunately, lockdown and work-from-home measures brought about by COVID-19 have disproportionately affected small businesses – particularly in the leisure and hospitality sectors.

% change in number of small businesses open.
% change in number of small businesses open. Image: Opportunity Insights

As metro-level data from Opportunity Insights points out, geography makes a great deal of difference in the proportion of U.S. small businesses that have flipped their open sign. While some cities are mostly back to business as usual, others are in a situation where the majority of small businesses are still shuttered.

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    The big picture

    In the U.S. as a whole, data suggests that nearly a quarter of all small businesses remain closed. Of course, the situation on the ground differs from place to place. Here’s how cities around the country are doing, sorted by percentage of small businesses closed as of September 2020:

    Percentage of small businesses closed as of September 2020.
    Percentage of small businesses closed as of September 2020. Image: Opportunity Insights

    New Orleans and the Bay Area are still experiencing rates of small business closures that are almost double the national median.

    Small businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector have been particularly hard hit, with 37% reporting no transaction data.

    Getting back to business

    Some cities are seeing rates of small business operation that are nearing pre-pandemic levels.

    % change in number of small businesses open.
    % change in number of small businesses open. Image: Opportunity Insights

    Of the cities covered in the data set, Omaha had the highest rate of small businesses open.

    Still shuttered

    In cities with a large technology sector, such as San Francisco and Austin, COVID-19 is shaking up the economic patterns as entire companies switched to remote working almost overnight. This is bad news for the constellation of restaurants and services that cater to those workers.

    % change in number of small businesses open.
    % change in number of small businesses open. Image: Opportunity Insights

    Likewise, cities that have an economy built around serving visitors – Honolulu and New Orleans, for example – have seen a very high rate of small business closures as vacations and conferences have been paused indefinitely.

    As the pandemic drags on, many of these temporary closures are looking to be permanent. Yelp recently reported that of the restaurants marked as closed on their platform, 61% are shut down permanently. As well, businesses in the retail and nightlife categories also saw more than half of closures become permanent.

    In remembrance of revenue

    A business being completely closed is a definitive measure, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. Even for businesses that remained open, revenue is often far below pre-pandemic rates.

    % change in number of small businesses revenue.
    % change in number of small businesses revenue. Image: Opportunity Insights

    Once again, businesses in the leisure and hospitality sector have been hit the hardest, with revenue falling by almost half since the beginning of 2020.

    At present, it’s hard to predict when, or even if, economic activity will completely recover. Though travel and some level of in-office work will eventually ramp back up, the small business landscape will continue to face major upheaval in the meantime.

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