By Jeremy Ross

CHICAGO (CBS) — It’s been one hit after another for downtown business in Chicago.

With the pandemic and the looting from 2020, and shoppers are hard to come by.

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But as CBS 2’s Jeremy Ross reported Tuesday, there are now signs the area may be turning a corner.

More people are out and many are finally shopping again. The Chicago Loop Alliance is seeing 12% more walking around this week compared to last.

Many are seeing the area’s newest business, Primark. The fashion retailer headquartered in Dublin, Ireland, is about to open its doors in the Loop, at 35 N. State St. It’s one of a dozen shops now in the U.S.

“I’ve been in retail now 20 years with Primark,” said  Andy Stewart, Primark’s U.S. President. “This has been the toughest year for any of us that can remember, but with tough times comes opportunity.”

Challenger, Gray and Christmas estimates that so far this year, Illinois has lost at least 1,110 retail jobs. Primark’s addition means helping to fill that hole.

“We’re delighted to say that we’ll have over 200 new colleagues joining when we open on Thursday,” said Stewart .

“It’s really only now that people are starting to get serious about retail. For a long time, there was no activity. They’re looking for better locations.”

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Michael Edwards Of Chicago Loop Alliance is seeing some retail momentum. That includes companies like Target. The retailer may be considering setting up shop in Water Tower Place, once home to Macy’s.

“We’re hopeful that some of these other space will begin to fill up over time,” Edwards said.

The National Retail Federation is echoing that optimism. Estimating retail sales will increase around 7% compared to last year. With that shopping increase largely dependent on declining COVID counts and increasing vaccination numbers.

“The vaccine is a game changer,” said Edwards. “We just need to make sure the variants don’t disrupt that progress.”

“We’re definitely seeing an uptick in consumer confidence and when we think about the vaccination there’s a real positive momentum right now,” Stewart said.

“I think they’ll be a huge amount of people who want to shop once they’re feeling safe about it,” said Edwards.

But as for getting back to pre-COVID numbers…

“I think we might, but that’s probably three years away, 24 months away to get back to 100%,” Edwards said.

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