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Yelp data shows more than half million new businesses opened in the past year

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Kevin Kahovec and Mary Kate McGovern chat at Rizzo’s Bar & Inn in Wrigleyville as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions are relaxed in Chicago, Illinois, March 6, 2021.
Eileen T. Meslar | Reuters

More than 500,000 new businesses opened across the United States in the past year, new data from Yelp showed, as the economy recovered from the depths of the Covid pandemic.

In its Economic Average Report, released Wednesday and compiled from the listings on its service, Yelp saw 516,754 new business openings from April 1, 2020, through March 31, remarkably down only 11% year over year. About 28%, 146,486, were in the first three months of 2021, down just 2% from a year earlier.

“Our data shows that more new businesses opened in the U.S. during the first quarter of 2021 than at any other period over the last 12 months, providing an optimistic outlook that local economies are back on solid ground after a tumultuous year,” Yelp data science vice president Justin Norman told CNBC. “After a challenging year, 2021 is off to an encouraging start for the local economy.”

Yelp’s data found that more than 69,000 new restaurants and food businesses opened in the past year. While that’s down 14% from the prior year, it’s still strong given those businesses were among the hardest hit by the coronavirus lockdowns in the early days of 2020 and the subsequent virus mitigation measures.

“It seems like the year-over-year rise in new business openings mirrors the current housing market frenzy,” Norman said. “People are inspired to take advantage of low rents and create new jobs by putting their personal savings towards starting a new business venture.”

Across the country, different states have seen different rates of reopening in the first quarter. But Yelp data found that every state except North Dakota saw a higher number of openings in Q1 than they did in the fourth quarter of last year. Not surprisingly, the states with the highest number of business openings were among those that eased restrictions throughout March or earlier, such as Michigan, Mississippi and South Carolina.

Business reopenings reached summer highs

Since March 1, 2020, nearly 258,200 businesses have reopened, with over 50,000 of them in the first quarter of this year, reaching the highest levels since last summer.

Yelp has been publishing economic reports since the start of the pandemic, which caused the temporary or permanent shutdown of hundreds of thousands of businesses across the country. Yelp measures reopened businesses by counting U.S. businesses that were temporarily closed and opened again through March 31, 2021, and each reopened business is counted on the most recent day of its reopening.

“Business reopenings also rose across the country and even spiked in Q1 2021,” Norman said.

The types of businesses that have reopened strongly in Q1 mostly reflect sectors that were adversely impacted by the shutdowns, including bars, coffee houses, and breakfast and brunch spots.

Tax services in particular saw a huge increase in reopenings. “In Q1, more banks and tax services have reopened to provide in-person assistance — that, coupled with an especially confusing 2020 tax season, helps explain why we’ve seen a spike in reopenings for tax professionals and banks,” Norman said.

Again, Yelp data showed that certain states experienced an increased level of businesses reopenings, based on their easing of Covid restrictions. Some states, including Arkansas, Delaware and Mississippi, experienced over 65% of their total reopenings in just the last three months.

Consumers show interest in home improvement, fitness and Pickleball

In addition to measuring the number of new businesses and business reopenings, Yelp’s data also shows how consumer interests are changing and how demand was starting to return for some pre-pandemic activities in the first quarter. Yelp measures consumer interest by counting actions that users take on the site in order to connect with businesses. 

The real estate and home improvement trends continued to look strong, with Yelp data showing that states saw a 90% increase in interest in real estate brokers, and a 100% increase in junk removal services. In most states, demand for handymen and electricians was also up.

“I think the trend we’re seeing with rising consumer interest in home and local services will be dependent on where you live and how flexible companies are with allowing employees to work from home,” Norman said.

“With recent headlines that more than half of all U.S. adults have received at least one Covid vaccine, it makes sense that people are still improving their homes,” he added. “Americans are getting ready to get back to dinner parties, hosting indoor events, and a summer that will hopefully be better than the last.”

Yelp also saw quarterly upticks in interest for some unique experiences and businesses. Interest in wineries increased over 300%. Some states saw a more than 700% increase in interest in international grocery stores. Certain states saw a 2,000% increase in interest in horseback riding. Missouri and Kansas saw a 200% uptick for interest in pickleball.

Yelp data also shows an 18% increase in consumer interest in fitness and exercise in Q1, Compared with a baseline of December 2020, interest in nail salons, motorcycle rentals and driving schools saw brief spikes but have leveled out. Yelp also saw interest in guns and ammunition spike in January, followed by a leveling out in later months in the quarter.

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