Lulu lives in a shutdown city, and thinks that there are ways to open up businesses while keeping safe because people’s huge sacrifices can’t go on forever.
My friend Lulu sent me an essay about what she’s experiencing in one of the cities that’s been hit hard by the virus and in which the only places the government will keep open are the big stores. Here’s what she has to say:
I vacillate between being heartbroken and hopping mad.
Every time I drive past the shuttered mom and pop picture framing store, that under ordinary circumstances might have had one lone customer looking for frames, my heart breaks. How will this lovely older immigrant couple survive? Their profit margins under the best of times must be slim. And what of the small lamp store that has been around 40 years? And while Home Depot is open and bustling, why has the small business tile store been forced to close its doors? They sell the same product. Home Depot sells lighting and tiles.
If one can social distance, wear a mask, and follow pandemic rules in a huge store like Costco or Home Depot, why can’t one do the same in a small shop where the risk of being around a large number of people is likely significantly less? Why must the government drive these unfortunate business owners into bankruptcy? My heart breaks for them.
A few days ago, I went to a plant nursery. When people are captive at home, they dream of gardening, so the place was as busy as I’ve ever seen. Every parking space was occupied. Nurseries are big, so people could keep their distance. Everyone wore a mask. Lines were properly spaced. The cashier was behind a plastic screen. It worked.
The same was true for Trader Joe’s. I waited outside briefly, six feet from my neighbors. All masked. The store was as empty as I’ve ever seen it. Shopping was quick. In addition to my food, I bought some hand lotion. Why couldn’t I do the same at the lotion store next door? Well, that place was shuttered, giving Trader Joe’s a monopoly on lotions.
TJ Maxx is closed because clothing is non-essential. But they also sell pots and pans, underwear, toys and bedding – all things that could be essential. On the other side of the mall (an outdoor mall so it isn’t fully shuttered), Target is open, so I could get pots and pans, underwear, toys and bedding there. Perhaps Target gets a pass, unlike TJ Maxx, because it also sells food.
It seems my local government rewards the big store over the small and certain stores over others. And to some extent, it is random.
Since the pandemic began, I have had to bring my dog to the vet. I call when I arrive. They take him inside for treatment. I wait outside. I call in my credit card number. Minimal contact.
I had my tires changed. After checking in at the front desk, I sat in my car while they worked.
People adapt. We are willing to adapt.
Businesses that require physical contact — hair salons, nail salons, massage parlors, gyms, personal trainers, health caretaking, childcare, and so on — may have to wait a bit longer, unfortunately. But rigorous precautions can be taken in many of these settings too.
I work in a very specialized area of rehabilitation treatment, and I have to have physical contact with my clients to do what I do. They have been without any services for a month-and-a-half and are begging to resume. It’s a tough population. They can’t all wear masks for a variety of reasons. With an abundance of caution, I have to figure out how to make it work, starting slow, seeing only a select few, testing the waters, and under the radar.
If I can do this with my clients, I believe that, with the same abundance of caution, people can get a haircut, using masks and fresh gloves. With an abundance of caution, people can go to the dentist and have their teeth cleaned with sterile equipment. With an abundance of caution, people can work out with one-on-one or no more than four students, with masks, with sanitizers.
A salon can have one or two customers present, rather than zero. A workout can have a few brave souls, rather than zero. Equipment can constantly be rubbed down with Lysol.
Customers and staff can sign a waiver verifying they are asymptomatic. Requirements can be masks and fresh disposable gloves for everyone, or no entry. Violations can be given to shoppers without masks, not to people who walk on the beach or try to buy seeds in Michigan.
We all know there is a totalitarian streak going on in some places, a cruel and cynical desire to see the economy tank as a means to usher in a utopian future without the detested Trump. I believe that the people who promote this vision, like Nancy Pelosi, are calculating about and indifferent to human suffering if it meets their ends. It is Stalinistic, sociopathic and to put it bluntly, genuinely evil. She may have two luxury freezers full of artisanal gelato, but people are afraid to lose their homes, the business they built over decades, and maybe even going to bed hungry. Shut up, kulaks!
I have a brother who is a doctor. In his purist medical vision, everyone should stay home until all possible viral threat is gone. He continues to draw an excellent salary, regardless.
I have another brother who is a businessman. He is being walloped financially by this. He tells our doctor brother that the economy can’t take what he is recommending. He tells him that there are health risks to turning the US into a third world country. He has his own business and employs others, and the longer this goes on, the worse it is for him and his employees.
In my profession, I see the serious mental health toll this situation is taking on people. There’s stress, isolation, depression, obviously, but there’s another issue — what of the casual cruelty of seeing a government indifferent to your real suffering? I haven’t made a dollar since mid-March.
That picture frame shop hasn’t made a dollar but still has expenses. Still has to pay rent. The MMA gym that opened up two weeks before this disaster hit still has to pay rent in a storefront full of brand new, unused equipment. The nail salon hasn’t seen a single soul. Their manicurists have families to feed and rent to pay.
I believe that picture frame shop and the small local gym and all the other shuttered businesses deserve a long applause and a thank you for their sacrifice. From Trump. From Pence. From my awful governor and mayor who ask for endless concessions and sacrifice without recognizing that people need to be acknowledged for helping and risking everything to do so. Because they are sacrificing everything to help us fight an invisible, unknown enemy. They deserve our gratitude, whether they engage in this sacrifice willingly or unwillingly, and as soon as they can open their doors, they deserve our business.