Working It Through

storm sky 0620
Without an illustration for today’s post, we’ll opt for allegorical: it may seem light, but there’s darkness around the edges. In a literal sense, this photo means someone somewhere got rain, but it wasn’t us.

Yesterday DJ was sort of glad to see me, and sort of not. DJ is one of the owners of my wood shop/makers space, and when I arrived at 2:45, I was the first appearance any member had put in all day. So I think he was glad someone showed up, but my timing was such that I interrupted his contemplation of going home early.

Trying to figure business out in the time of Corona is hard, a notion that is reinforced whenever I read something or talk to fellow business people. In the CB News this week, businesses in Mt. Crested Butte, a steep three miles above Crested Butte, noted that they have very little foot traffic, while Elk Avenue, the main street down below, is bustling.

The Gunnison paper featured a sales tax report for April. Surprisingly, perhaps, sales tax collection was higher than April ’19, but not really because of support for local businesses. No, for the same reason the US Postal Service’s financial demise has now been postponed to 2021 (from this very month), county sales tax was up almost 15 percent for the year to date, due to our friends at Amazon, busy taking the world over county by county.

The City of Gunnison’s tax revenue for the first four months was up 2.5 percent; every other municipality in the valley reported a downturn: CB at -9, Mt. CB at -14; tiny Marble at -25; and Pitkin, with more business than I expected, down 87 percent. (Last year through April Pitkin had recorded nearly $1 million in sales, which surprises me greatly.) But unincorporated Gunnison County reported almost $13 million sales more, January through April, than 2019. That’s an 80 percent increase, with no second homeowners around, at least in theory.

Lynn reports that rural carriers, most of whom are contractors and not postal employees, are lamenting that they are having to do so much more work delivering all these Amazon and other packages, without any increase in pay, because they bid their routes well in advance.

And DJ, who has a full-time job over and above his ownership of my woodshop, is now working up to 60 hours over four days. He drives a semi that delivers food to restaurants in the valley as well as Salida and Buena Vista (as I learned yesterday), so it’s not just my imagination that restaurants are busy.

But the shop is not, and sitting there all day waiting for people to come in doesn’t strike DJ as a productive use of his time. I can’t say as though I blame him, although it’s difficult, as a member, to try to get the timing right.

DJ’s business partner, Branden, didn’t have a job other than the shop until Corona closed it down. Then he picked up some work delivering materials and doing other odd jobs for the man who owns the building they’re in.

Branden, his wife, five kids and his dad all just moved into a new-to-them house, and Branden used a lot of his down time to be far more productive than Lynn and I have. He’s moved giant rocks and lined an entire pond, as well as pulling up carpets and refinishing floors.

With all these projects at home, and some financial opportunity working for his landlord, he is also having trouble justifying sitting idly at the shop waiting for people to come by. They have now installed a keypad so that “trusted” members can come and go (although you have to wonder, since they put me on that “trusted” list, who might be left off).

Branden and DJ only opened this business in December, so they don’t have much to go on. They only know that they were building clientele and it was a thriving, bustling concern — and then a pandemic shut them down. Ever since, it’s been a slow slog back, although they picked up a few new members last week. (And one of my wood working classmates, who I thought was going to give up her membership, is now making a king-size bed frame with underdrawers.)

I can sense their discouragement, but I wonder how much of their shop inactivity might be a function of the weather and our county’s proclivity toward outdoor recreation. Why be inside working on your Jeep when you could be out four-wheeling?

I can see this in myself. I have gone over an ever-lengthening list of projects with both Branden and DJ, and I really haven’t gotten any closer to any of them than buying some lumber. I did yesterday sand some of my lumber, which didn’t require DJ’s supervision, so he was able to go home early after all.

DJ’s primary availability to help me with projects is Wednesday during the day, and I just can’t do that in the summer, even in the slowed-down environment of Pandemia. That leaves Saturday, which is also farmers market day, my milk run at the health food store, my lunch date day with Lynn, and I’m trying to get the garage sorted and organized in time to get a second car in by fall.

While some of my wood projects might help with that organization, I end up feeling overrun on most weekends — and we haven’t got to the part where Pat’s probably ought to open back up on Saturdays.

There’s definitely more foot traffic, and we’ve even picked up a couple of regular-sized screen print orders from regular customers, but the notion of dealing with retail customers like Friday’s — the woman who stormed out because we wouldn’t provide a changing room, the woman who left because we requested she wear a mask, and the man who came in wearing a mask but then took it off once inside our store — doesn’t fill any of us, even Gilly, with joy.

This foot traffic is all coming from states where the viral counts are soaring up, and I just can’t work up enthusiasm to open in the hopes of selling a couple of $15 shirts to unmasked customers. So we remain closed on Saturdays, which I’m sure isn’t contributing to the city’s “welcome back” ambiance.

I’m right there with Branden and DJ as they struggle to strike the correct balance between being open and not wasting their time, and with our restaurant customers in Mt. Crested Butte, one of whom is open but not seeing much traffic, another of whom has decided to remain closed until ski season because his business model depends on volume he doesn’t see happening this summer. (This means they aren’t likely to return to us as customers this summer.)

In the meantime, I keep amassing more wood projects I’d like assistance with, but since my free time does not mesh with their available time, this list may remain as theoretical as it was before I became a member. Such is life in the time of Corona.

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