The Ferris wheel at Scheels powered up this month, nearly a year after the outdoors megastore had opened in Eden Prairie Center, another signal that brick-and-mortar retail is gearing up again after the pandemic stalled in-person sales for many outlets.

Scheels fashions itself as a retail destination, with a huge fish tank, roller ball lanes and a mini hockey rink. But until now, not all of its attractions were up and running.

"You want to have fun when you are shopping," said Austin Link, marketing and events leader for the Eden Prairie Scheels, as he watched families line up to ride the 45-foot Ferris wheel at the center of the store last week.

With mask mandates lifted as more people become vaccinated and start to venture out, retailers say they are cautiously optimistic after seeing increased foot traffic in the last few weeks. Now, stores have started to bring back events and put in place changes based on what they learned during the year of the pandemic.

Scheels' indoor Ferris wheel at the 250,000-square-foot store had been sitting idle because of concerns about cleaning and the need to follow guidance to prevent the spread of COVID-19. After Gov. Tim Walz lifted Minnesota's mask mandate in May, it seemed like the right time to open the ride.

"Knowing that the masks are going away, knowing that everything is going in the right direction, … knowing everyone is feeling a little bit safer it allowed us to [feel safer] as well," Link said.

The store has also started to host events with vendors such as a fish fest, bat demo and a shotgun demo coming up at the end of the month. The events drive customers back to the store and allow them to test products, Link said.

"We want to have these events and have these demos to get people into stores," he said. "We want to be a retail destination in the metro."

Retailers as a whole have experienced a tumultuous year but apparel stores especially have suffered as fewer people have needed clothes for work and going out. Federal data released this week showed retail and food service sales were down more than 1% in May from the previous month as people spent less on items like building materials, electronics and furniture. Still, sales were up more than 28% above May 2020, with clothing and accessories seeing a big jump along with food services and drinking places.

"Both the economy and consumers have proven to be much more resilient than even our optimistic forecast had projected," Matthew Shay, chief executive of the National Retail Federation (NRF), said at a "state of retail" event earlier this month.

The NRF revised its annual forecast to show a larger increase in sales this year and now expects growth to be between 10.5 and 13.5%. That would be the largest bump in two decades.

Shay attributes the growth to the number of people vaccinated, stimulus programs and consumers' confidence and willingness to spend, among other factors.

Foot traffic in malls in May was down about 13% over 2019, the strongest mark since the onset of the pandemic last March, according to the latest analysis by research firm

"The rapid and continued return is a further testament to the ongoing consumer demand for mall-based retail and experiences and the unique potential of top-tier models to enjoy a resurgence in the coming months and years," said Ethan Chernofsky, vice president of marketing at, in a statement.

At Rosedale Center in Roseville, foot traffic has picked up, said Sarah Fossen, director of marketing and experience at the center. Events are also starting to come back. Late last month, Rosedale Center hosted a two-day event with four shows in its parking lot featuring finalists from "RuPaul's Drag Race." About 1,600 cars visited during the event.

Nancy Shank also has noticed an increase in the number of customers at her store, Dugo, at 50th and France in Edina. Dugo, which stands for "Dress Up Go Out," has had a challenging year as the demand for occasional dresses and fancier wear dwindled during the pandemic.

"I think for me, part of it was not knowing when this is coming to an end," Shank said.

People mostly buy her items in-person where they can try things on and be assisted by staff, she said. She is encouraged that new customers have recently been coming through the doors.

"People are so thrilled to be kind of released," she said. "I'm so happy to go back to normal."

Dugo has several in-person trunk shows from designers coming up this summer to showcase products.

Jessica Gerard, owner of lingerie shop Flirt Boutique, moved from St. Paul to Edina late last year and had the best April and May sales numbers she has had since she opened in 2008.

Gerard launched her e-commerce site for her store early this year, but still most people go into her store to be measured, try things on and make purchases. During the pandemic, she had to reduce her hours because it was difficult to find employees to work, she said, but she plans to keep the reduced hours because they haven't disrupted sales.

"I feel really optimistic," she said. "I feel like the people who survived the last year, they are pretty tough and are probably going to survive anything."

While the signs are positive, for many retailers there's still a ways to go to get back to pre-pandemic sales numbers. Increased foot traffic doesn't always translate into sales, said Jason Hammerberg, owner of men's apparel store Hammer Made, which has several locations throughout the metro including at the Mall of America and the Galleria.

Hammer Made, which sells high-end, limited-run dress shirts and accessories under its own label, has made efforts to include more casual pieces as it works to help direct men to middle-ground attire between office ready and couch chic.

"Now I am trying to do more advertising and getting in front of people again to say, 'We are here,'" Hammerberg said.

The store is also looking at doing more events such as a pop-up it recently hosted at a winery and brewery. He wants people to be able to see and touch the clothes in person. That feel cannot be replicated online.

"I'm cautiously optimistic taking the next step," he said. "It seems like people are getting back out and it seems like there is some optimism out here."