From Consumer Cities to Consumer Towns? The Post-Pandemic Geography of Retail in the U.S.

56 Pages Posted: 19 Dec 2023

See all articles by Binzhe Wang

Binzhe Wang

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)

Date Written: December 15, 2023


The COVID-induced working-from-home (WFH) transition has altered the distribution of jobs and commutes. It has also impacted local shopping patterns in ways that remain unexplored. I use mobile-device foot traffic data in 1.7 million retail establishments in 5,296 cities and towns to explore the reorganization of consumer activities in the U.S. Total consumer foot traffic remained below pre-COVID levels as of the end of 2022, primarily due to a decline in average traffic volumes. In contrast, the number of active stores was almost the same as that pre-COVID. The loss of active establishments was only pronounced among independent stores, especially in smaller municipalities. Differences across cities were mostly driven by the re-location of jobs, pointing to the importance of job-shop trip chaining. However, recovery has lagged in cities with higher African-American population shares. These areas experienced a more significant decline in both store numbers and foot traffic volumes, even after accounting for factors such as WFH exposure, population size and location, and the availability of COVID relief loans.

Keywords: Consumer city, COVID-19, Retail, Work-From-Home

Suggested Citation

Wang, Binzhe, From Consumer Cities to Consumer Towns? The Post-Pandemic Geography of Retail in the U.S. (December 15, 2023). MIT Center for Real Estate Research Paper No. 23/21, Available at SSRN: or

Binzhe Wang (Contact Author)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ( email )

77 Massachusetts Avenue
50 Memorial Drive
Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
United States

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