A glimmer of light, perhaps, in the darkness
Way back, way back, like three or four weeks ago, our little company was on track for its best year ever.
Our print newspaper was going strong and we had just added a new, energetic and driven sales professional. Our digital footprint was growing faster than we had expected, and our staff was brimming with new ideas to help local businesses get their message out via several online platforms. Our niche publishing sector had grown significantly in the last 12 months, adding two annual magazines and the four-time-per-year Blue Ridge Motorcycling Magazine to our portfolio.
We were — like many small businesses — looking forward to the kind of year you sometimes have after 20 years of nose-to-the-grindstone, toughing it out through good years and not-so-good ones.
How quickly things have turned south. In the past two weeks we have laid off three full-timers. In addition, we have cut hours such that we have eliminated another 4.75 full-time equivalencies. That’s 7.75 positions out of a staff of 17.
In an attempt to control print costs, we’ve reduced page count and press run. I’m hopeful 32 pages will be the norm for a few weeks, but we could drop more depending on what the next few days or weeks hold.
That’s my story. I’ve talked to other business owners and employees, and it’s one that is echoing throughout these mountains and down main streets. Other, larger operations are losing hundreds of thousands of dollars that they won’t be able to recoup. It’s just gone.
And like them, we plan to come out on the other end. Who knows when that will happen, but the reality is that the sense of panic has calmed despite the reality that the projected magnitude of the economic and psychological pain changes every few hours. Still, some of us are looking at how we will return to some semblance of normalcy.
The bickering between the president and the governors is not helpful, nor is the standoff between the GOP and Democrats in Congress over additional recovery bills. As main street bleeds, politics remains the divisive, distasteful reality show that we all have to endure.
The current lockdown, or stay-at-home orders, last until the end of April in North Carolina, a few days longer in some counties. This we know.
How will we open up and start heading toward normal? I read the plan adopted by Israel, and that country’s four-step process seemed like a fairly good model that I suspect many industrialized countries will follow in some fashion.
First back are the tech and finance industries, which do a lot of work from home already. Second to reopen are everyday commerce and retail stores (not huge malls), which would continue social distancing measures. Next come restaurants and hotels, again with social distancing, and perhaps the re-opening of some educational systems. Last will be recreational sectors like sports, air travel, and entertainment.
That said, we may not be out of the woods by early May. But the measures we’ve enacted are working and beginning to slow the spread. I’ll keep doing the distancing and stay-at-home protocols, but with a glimmer of hope that we could be in a much better place three or four weeks down the road.