Paradigm, Spare a Dime

dimes 0420I failed you yesterday: not only did I dangle a participle in front of you, very first thing, but I somehow managed to forget to report the biggest story one could find on April 1 (no foolin’): there was a semi-truck that toppled over and caught fire on a highway near Dallas. Its cargo? Toilet paper. An entire semi’s worth of toilet paper, up in flames. Noooo!

Which brings us to the economic winners and losers being chosen by governments across the country, and I can’t help feeling bitter about this. Intellectually I grasp that I should see the greater good in this — as a student of Star Trek, I am well versed with “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few (or the one)” — but I am having persistent vision trouble.

I get some of this. Of course companies offering on-line platforms are going to make money and need new employees. Two weeks ago I’d never heard of Zoom and now it’s all the rage — although my friend Matt found information questioning the security and information sharing practices of this platform, which may also be flashing your e-mail address all around the web.

But hardware big-box Lowe’s is hiring 100,000 people nationwide (300 in Colorado) and Kroger, parent company of City Market, is now reporting sales increases of 30 percent while so many other stores are forcibly shuttered.

I am not alone in my bitterness. A man “attending” the same local Zoom meetings about retail in the time of coronavirus —

[I have only recently learned that it is a new, or “novel,” coronavirus that is causing the new disease covid-19, so I probably should not be using the two terms interchangeably, but chances are high I will continue to do so, just as another participle or two might get dangled. I want you to know, none of this makes it right.]

— is extremely vocal each week about his frustration that his one-on-one business interactions have been disallowed, while people are treating the groceries as an antidote to boredom, shopping in packs and letting children roam the aisles unattended. I personally can’t attest or detest (not the right use of that word at all — what has happened to my standards?) to any of this, as I am trying to responsibly avoid transmission vectors.

But my co-worker Vann, also trying to behave responsibly, expressed outrage at seeing a family of five (mom, dad, three kids) ambling through the aisles at City Market. How is this helping?

What I want, and what the man on my video meetings wants, is for this pain to be more equitable. We are not asking for business as usual, but if we are being forced into restrictions that could easily mark the end of our businesses, why are there no restrictions on the bigger stores that have better resources to draw on?

The two banks across the street from me, neither with a drive-up presence, both figured out fairly quickly how to offer walk-up windows. But when City Market’s on-line option is overrun, instead of the county telling City Market to figure it out, they capitulated, and the public health order puts the onus on us, the consumers: if you are not 60 years of age, you have to go into the store. Don’t forget to bring your kids!

If mandated, City Market could try thinking outside the box, just as every downtown merchant has been forced to. Pull people off the check-out lines and make them grocery pickers. Allocate more spaces in your parking lot for the on-line pick-ups. Or, as Carol suggested, turn your back door into the loading area, so that people could just drive through without encumbering the city’s worst parking lot at all. Any of these options would be safer for employees and the public.

Safeway could start offering on-line services. Surely a national grocery chain can manage that in this day and age, although they seem befuddled by the notion that you’d want to use a credit card that isn’t actually present. Hardware stores should only allow curbside pick-up. Dollar Tree  and Tractor Supply should be required to limit the number of people shopping at one time.

But without requirement, why should they? It’s business as usual for them. Probably business at the non-groceries is down, particularly without second homeowners and visitors to boost the locals, many of whom are currently unemployed or having to stay home with kids (or not: see going to the grocery for fun).

It is — very slowly — starting to dawn on the national consciousness that this is not an over-by-Easter event, although we still have yet to convince a full third of the states. Bill Gates, who warned of the hazards of a pandemic over the crisis of war back in 2015, is calling for an immediate nationwide shutdown. (He did allow as how the president has not asked for his input.)

Business analyst Jill Schlesinger this morning brought us the week’s unemployment number: 6.6 million new filings, double last week’s 3.3 million. Combine that with the 3% that had previously already been out of work, and we are already at 10 percent unemployment — with the dominoes just starting to fall. (Don’t forget: 13 states have yet to order their little businesses closed while telling everyone to go grocery shopping.)

Ms. Schlesinger called it “an economic pandemic” and said that while some banks are predicting the recession we are clearly already in might last through the year, the small business ship may not be righted for two years, with a lot of drownings along the way. (My metaphor, not hers.)

I have already filled out my paperwork for the Paycheck Protection Program, in my own little effort to keep the Pat’s peeps from joining the breadlines that are getting much longer by the second, but this may not be the help it’s supposed to be.

The first banker we spoke with (via e-mail) sounded extremely frustrated that the PPP (which around here used to stand for Pole, Paddle and Pedal, yet another event that won’t take place this year), part of the recent $2 trillion congressional act, was opened to the businesses before the banks received any instructions (those were supposed to have arrived overnight). He also sounded disinclined to consider our application because he wants to help his existing customers first, even though Kara’s personal banking is at his establishment.

My bank, a savings and loan (again, failing at that diversification thing), is “looking into it,” but I don’t know if that means they’re even going to be able to offer this program, for which I imagine money is going to be snapped up very quickly.

But today I’m wondering about the wisdom of even applying, because part of the application (shortest loan form you’re ever going to run into) asks for an attestation that you won’t be asking the federal government for any more assistance this calendar year. It only covers two months of payroll. Congress, probably already at work behind the scenes on the next step, may realize $2 trillion was just chump change for the second front of this pandemic.

If some sort of health recovery is possible by summer, then two months would be all the assistance Pat’s needs. But if summer becomes fall becomes winter. . . It seems like asking ALL businesses in Gunnison, the state and the nation, to take some pretty severe action in a short term would be better for the economy than drawing out the fun as long as possible.

But maybe that’s just disgruntled me.




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