On main street, things won’t ever be the same
The world changed over the weekend, especially on main street. And it likely won’t ever again look the same as it did on Friday, not with the Covid-19 hell storm unleashing its fury.
I’m the eternal optimist if ever there was one. But, what I’m picking up these last two days are fears that are so strong they are palpable, pulsing down the street and into everyone’s psyche.
This is not about the health care side of this pandemic and how many will die and how many will get sick. That’s an extremely important story, and you can find plenty of news about that on other pages in this issue.
I’m talking about the economic disaster barreling down on main street, Anytown USA, as a result of the pandemic. The street with restaurants, galleries, lawyer’s offices, accountants, breweries and furniture stores, with bartenders and servers dressed in black headed to work mid-mornings, professional workers grouping up for lunch at the local eateries, teachers laughing and talking about their days while gathered after work at their favorite pub.
Because a lot of those Main Street businesses — and those in the suburbs and in rural areas — aren’t going to survive this. Shutting down for a few days or a few weeks will be the death of far too many entrepreneurial dreams. Those who work in government at the local, state or federal level don’t have a clue about how many small businesses can’t just keep paying workers, keep paying their suppliers, keep paying rent or mortgage and keep paying off debt when there is no cash coming in the door.
So yeah, we’ll come out of this. The main streets in Western North Carolina and the country over will still be there when the crowds come back and the cash registers and credit card machines are whirring again. But the guy I’ve known for years who runs the restaurant down the street could very likely be in another town doing something different. The woman who runs the gallery where I get my wife gifts for her birthday and holidays may be stocking grocery store shelves somewhere because the owner of her business just couldn’t find a way to keep the doors open.
It’s a frightening future when hard-working people all over the country are having to count on politicians to get them through a hard time. We’ve often heard people accuse them — the politicians — of not knowing anything about Main Street and how it works. As I look down the road and see at least four to eight weeks of shutdowns and definite slowdowns, I’m hoping we’re wrong.
I’m hoping those leaders in Washington D.C. and Raleigh get this right and provide help not only to the large industries owned by their fat-cat donors, but to the workers soon to lose their jobs and the small entrepreneurs who employ those workers and who are the bedrock of this economy.
My son works at UNC Charlotte’s swimming pool, but he is effectively laid off because the campus shut down the pool. For him, it was extra spending money. For a whole lot of students at campuses all over the country, those jobs pay rent and tuition and buy food. They need help.
When economic downturns loom, the ripple effects are easy to predict: restaurant closes, employees laid off, all of a sudden rent, car payments, groceries, insurance, school tuition, etc., all of it crashes at once or perhaps slowly, over a couple months.
I have hope those most at-risk survive the coronavirus, that local workers aren’t devastated by the economic fallout, that the small business owners I call friends make it to the other side of whatever this is we’re in. Right now what we have are a multitude of scary questions and very few answers.
OK, so things are looking bad throughout the region after Tuesday’s mandatory closure of restaurants and bars. Do what you are able to support local businesses. They need it now more than ever.