Campus Corner 9-18

Pedestrians walk by Pickleman’s Gourmet Cafe, 759 Asp Ave., on Friday in Campus Corner. Norman sales tax reports show a rebound from 2020.

Norman saw significant sales tax revenue over the summer — something city officials say is partially due to a significant retail rebound from COVID-19 restrictions last year.

According to a monthly report, Norman’s sales tax revenue totaled $7.8 million in June, $8.05 million in July, nearly $8.14 million in August and more than $8.4 million in September. This amounts to 42.34%, 20.75%, 16% and 31.13% increases from the same months in 2020.

The third and most recent round of stimulus checks from the American Rescue Plan first hit bank accounts March 12. The impact of these payments and other sales tax reports is best reflected in the report two months after businesses turn in their tax numbers, said Anthony Francisco, city finance director.

Francisco said the last four monthly reports showing double-digit change from years prior is an encouraging sign for economic recovery from earlier months of the pandemic in 2020. He said the increase in returns could be due to a combination of pent-up demand, federal stimulus payments and reflective of when COVID-related restrictions adversely affected retail activity.

Dan Schemm, director of VisitNorman, expects Norman to have a strong year for sales tax revenue “barring any horrendous setbacks with the pandemic.” The city on Wednesday reported 559 new COVID-19 cases over the previous week, bringing its active cases at the time to 919, according to Oklahoma State Department of Health records. Four deaths were reported in that time, bringing the city total to 212, records show.

Schemm said he recently discussed the Delta variant of COVID-19 with Dale Bratzler, chief COVID officer with the University of Oklahoma, about virus variants causing eight-week spikes before giving way to a downward trend in hospitalizations.

He said COVID-19 cases increased in the spring and summer at the same time as the promising sales tax reports.

“I think that the people who are vaccinated are going out, and those that didn’t get vaccinated have made that decision, and I don’t think they have changed the way they’re living,” Schemm said. “Case numbers could certainly impact these reports, but I’m hopeful that this trend will continue.”

Schemm said his team’s focus shifted this spring to leisure travel. He said “there was pent-up demand” in this sector, which led to his marketing decision.

“For it to carry on with these increases we have seen from the spring, except for a glitch in April, all the way through September, has just been tremendous,” he said.

Schemm also said OU football’s return to full-capacity games should yield strong sales tax numbers. Games in the 2020 season were restricted at 25%.

“I think people were excited to get back out, and then with OU Football, I think without question the numbers are up, so we’re looking forward to a fabulous Q4,” said Cayman’s Clothing owner Shelley Cox, who also noted her store has seen an increase in revenue since the spring months.

Finally, Schemm said his monthly hotel/motel industry report shows key performance indicators rebounding. According to his most recent report from July, the occupancy rate was 61.3%, a 21.1% increase from the same month in 2020. The average daily room rate in July was $90.25, up from $71.69 in 2020.

The July 2019 report shows the average daily room rate was $83.51. In July 2021, average daily room rate was $90.25.

“We can see we’re getting more visitors, and they’re out spending more money,” Schemm said. “Hopefully those VisitNorman efforts helped contribute a bit to those sales tax numbers we’re seeing.”

Jeff Elkins covers business, living and community stories for The Transcript. Reach him at jelkins@normantranscript.com or at @JeffElkins12 on Twitter.

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