Rollie column

Rollie Atkinson

We are beginning to “open” our local economy and bring some normalcy back to our daily lives while we remain very vigilant with our physical distancing, protective masks and extreme hand washing to decrease the spread of the novel coronavirus. Patience and good manners will be our finest virtues.

After eight weeks of being sheltered-in-place with most businesses and jobs shut down, we are already seeing that the economy we are reopening will be a changed one. Some of the changes are being created by global forces, and some will be of our own doing, as we adapt our businesses to a new reality of a post-pandemic world.

It is not just having our restaurants spread their tables six feet apart and having wait staff wear protective masks. And, we already hear that many of those “stay at home” workers will not be coming back to commercial offices. We don’t yet know what schools and learning will look like in the fall, but we know all these developments will contribute to a historical makeover of how we work, teach, commute, relax and socialize.

We are told the worst thing we can do is to open businesses and expand traveling too fast. The second worst thing we could do is to pretend our tomorrows will be just like the days before we were introduced to COVID-19.  Good plans are in the works. Several business taskforces under the coordination of the county’s Economic Development Board have created SoCo Launch. This is a series of industry-specific reopening plans with careful lists of “best practices” and COVID-19 public health requirements. Reading them offers a picture of what our post-pandemic world will look like. We might even see streets closed to vehicles with outdoor dining and open air markets in their places.

Many recent news articles published here and elsewhere included headlines with the word “pivot.” Restaurants pivoted to curbside delivery. Art galleries, musicians, churches and civic clubs all went virtual. Shuttered downtown stores and shops are offering some curbside pickups, but are mostly pivoting to online orders and sales. At this newspaper, we are making a historical pivot to put our news on digital platforms and away from traditional print. With all our reporters and editors working remotely or sheltered-in-place, we have closed two of our three offices (Cloverdale and Sebastopol). We suspect many other “brick and mortar” locations will close as well.

Perhaps new enterprises will spring up as new needs and opportunities emerge in this post-pandemic era. Our downtowns could eventually gain some new forms of vitality and commerce. Together, we can make this happen.

Meanwhile, no one knows how many of us are ready to fly on a commercial airplane, sit in a darkened theater or attend concerts or sporting events. Boeing has canceled airplane construction orders. Universal and Disney last week bypassed movie theaters and released the films “Onward” and “Trolls World Tour” directly to streaming, where families could pay $20 for home viewing and skip the $6 theater popcorn. A Forbes analysis says Macy’s, Nordstrom, Kohl’s and Bed, Bath & Beyond are all likely to file for bankruptcy, signaling a disastrous reckoning for America’s large department stores.

Like many of our more enterprising restaurants that pivoted to curbside pickup and deliveries, many local wineries increased their direct-to-consumer and wine club marketing. What kind of future does this spell for all of our wine tasting rooms?

It will be quite some time before Sonoma County’s 7,000 inn and hotel rooms show healthy occupancy rates again. If we can’t expect crowds of wine country tourists to come back soon, who else could we share our hospitality with? What about all those office workers and former cubicle dwellers? Wouldn’t they prefer a Sonoma County view and experience while they pursue their post-pandemic future?

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