The pandemic is forcing stores to close, and limiting choices for consumers

Travelers around Houston will notice a growing number of buildings and storefronts that are empty, and the pandemic slowdown is likely to change where and how we spend our money.

By comparison: in March, Houston's retail sector was doing very well, with all kinds of options in all kinds of places. Five months later, much of that has changed and the worst may be yet to come.

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"I think 2021 could be, possibly, even more challenging and we could see even more fallout than we've already seen," says Jason Baker, of the Baker Katz commercial real estate brokerage.

He's not alone. One industry analysis suggests retail vacancies will more than double in the first half of the year, as stores are unable to keep their doors open and get even worse if consumers choose to stay home.

Baker is less concerned with the two dozen, or so, major retailers who have declared recent bankruptcy,  saying most were already on borrowed time. He is sure 'brick and sticks' retail, as he calls it, will remain a popular choice but is curious what healthy retailers may do as they reassess the number of stores they keep open to serve the community, going forward.

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"I think a lot of retailers are going to say 'We need what we have or maybe, even, fewer locations'," says Baker.

Houston's over-supply of office will space will, also, continue to be a problem. The city's vacancy rate was already among the highest in the country. As companies have sent employees to work-from-home, there's the possibility that office-needs will shrink even more.

"I think office is going to continue to feel the squeeze," says Baker, "But to say that there's not going to be a fair amount of demand, going into the future, I'm not sure i buy that, yet."