It’s really hard to process what is happening in our city, state, country and world right now. And that may be the understatement of the year.
Of course, we are all scared and uncertain about COVID-19. Will we be the next Italy or will it not be that big of a deal in our part of the country? There are “experts” who say both things. And I vacillate between feeling optimistic and then hopeless, and I have both of those feelings sometimes in the same minute. This minute-by-minute emotional roller coaster makes each day feel like a year.
The unknown is what is truly terrifying. And I hope and pray it will not take the lives some say it will. But what I do know with 100 percent certainty is this virus is killing small businesses throughout this community.
As I sit here writing this column on Tuesday, this was supposed to be the last day of Lagniappe’s Mobile Bay Restaurant Week, a week-long celebration in which our great local eateries showcase their cuisine and remind us of the unique flavor they each add to our area. Obviously, we had to postpone it. And now, most of those restaurants have shuttered, some will be able to reopen, but many may not.
And the ones who have remained open for carry-out or delivery are only doing a fraction of the business they were just two weeks ago. And most of their employees have already been let go.
As I have talked to other friends about the state of their small businesses, no matter the industry from event planning to dentistry, the answer is the same. Everyone is suffering greatly, and without any help, they can operate for a month, maybe two. And then they are done. It is the same with Lagniappe, which is very much a small business, too.
Mayor Sandy Stimpson tweeted on Monday, “COVID-19 is first and foremost a public health crisis. But it is also an economic crisis and we cannot ignore that fact. We must protect lives as well as livelihoods.”
The response to his tweet was largely, “you are putting profits over people,” to which he replied, “saving lives is our top priority.”
And, of course, it is. No one wants anyone to die from this.
But an economic crisis is going to put many lives at risk, too. If this lasts too long, people are going to be shooting each other in the streets, having heart attacks from the stress of it all and jumping off bridges because they can no longer provide for their families. BOTH the public health crisis with COVID-19 and the economic crisis MUST be addressed.
And really, I just can’t imagine there is any way the federal government is going to be able to dole out enough money to make every business in America whole again. The losses are already catastrophic and hard to even quantify. It will take months and months or even years to rebuild. And any (already damaged) business that actually manages to get a disaster loan will only be saddled with more debt, limiting their growth opportunities probably for a very long time.
We will get rid of this virus or find a vaccine or start to develop immunity to it, but I fear the economic damage is going to linger for years to come and could quite possibly end up killing more people than the virus itself. I really hope I am wrong.
Times are tough. And it’s beyond depressing. But like in any crisis or disaster situation, we see the good in people and find some silver linings.
My kids have really been troopers about this, and seeing their sweet teachers and principals working so hard to maintain a sense of normalcy by uploading videos of their lessons every day has given me an even greater appreciation for the work they do.
Every morning of “home school,” my daughter’s principal reads the announcements from her living room, usually with her dogs helping out and wishes happy birthdays to the poor kids who have had them during this time. And then they also do the pledge, just as they did at school every morning. On the first day, we all stood as a family in the little hallway where our computer sits, put our hands over our hearts and did it together, and I don’t why, but I just lost it. Tears were popping out uncontrollably. It all seemed so surreal and crazy and sweet at the same time.
And even though this period has been stressful, I have gotten to spend the most time with my kids since I was on maternity leave. And, of course, they have had their moments (so have I), but it’s been nice hanging out with them and having conversations we probably never would have had otherwise, and it’s also been fun destroying them at Monopoly. I don’t see a future in real estate for either of them.
It’s also been so great to see people out and about again, off of their phones, riding bikes or walking their dogs, and chatting with their neighbors (from six feet away) about all of this craziness. Perhaps this period of social distancing will actually bring us closer together than we have been in many years.
It’s also been heartening to see everyone trying to support all of the local businesses suffering so much because of this. The restaurant takeout campaign Visit Mobile and Downtown Mobile Alliance put together had great results. And our local music venues have been live-streaming concerts to not only support our local musicians who have obviously lost gigs, but also the many people who work behind the scenes and have lost their jobs.
And there have been countless other small acts of kindness playing out all over this city every day. It breaks my heart to see my city suffering so, but I have never been prouder to call it home.
Finally, on a personal note, I want to thank everyone for the outpouring of support we have received for Lagniappe. As most of you know, we generate most of our revenue from print advertising. And a lot of that advertising is from businesses that have had to close or had their revenues severely damaged by this, so a lot of it has been pulled, which has greatly damaged our business as well. And it’s tough and scary, and we are terrified we are about to watch 18 years of hard work evaporate in front of our eyes.
Many of you have signed up for a Lagniappe digital subscription in the last week (we still need a lot more, so if you can, please sign up at lagniappemobile.com), but this small act has helped tremendously and has at least given us some hope we can make it through this.
I think we will. I think we all will. It’s just going to be really hard, and when we come out on the other side of this, we are going to have to support each other in every way we can.
But we will do it, because we are Mobile, and we are truly Mobile Strong.
Stay safe and well!
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