I went to Walmart early this morning, hoping to pick up a few things before the crowds arrived.

The bad news is the shelves were really picked over, frighteningly so, and not just for food. The good news is the aisles were filled with wrapped pallets of food and assorted other things, with workers feverishly unpacking and shelving items. Seems I got there just a little too early.

Walmart will do just fine. In fact, it will thrive and is seeking to hire 150,000 temporary workers to help handle the rush to stock up on food, toilet paper, and other items. Amazon is doing fine also, and is seeking to hire 100,000 new distribution center workers. One of the local Starbucks had a line of cars at the drive through dozens long; the Chick-fil-A drive through was rocking.

Local businesses, by contrast, are crushed. They either are forced closed, or if restaurants, open only for take out. As I mentioned the other day, there is only so long the forced closure of the economy can go on before people revolt — the reasonable center cannot take such a devastating loss from which local businesses and personal lives may not recover.

When I was at Walmart, I heard a women talking to another woman about how her husband’s business was not going to survive. Someone on our local Nextdoor list put out an urgent message about our local diner/ice cream place, Newport Creamery. It’s a small local chain, and serves as a center of life in town. It’s where parents take their kids after soccer games and after school, and where senior citizens gather in the mornings. Here was the alert:

Hi Everyone! Just picked up take-out from Newport Creamery. I asked how they were doing, and they said not well. They had almost no business yesterday or today. If you’d like them to stay open, please place a take-out order ASAP!

We weren’t looking for ice cream, but when we saw the alert, we went over there.

The restaurant section was darkened and shut, but the take out ice cream section was open. We bought a half gallon of Raspberry Chocolate Chip Frozen Yogurt. One of my daughters is 7-months pregnant, and it’s her favorite.

One person buying a half gallon of ice cream from the local shop isn’t going to change their world, but if enough people do it, and others take out food, it could be the difference. The loss of Newport Creamery would not just be the loss of a diner or ice cream shop, it would be the death of a key part of our community, a place where my now-grown kids have so many memories.

I know other stories of small acts that help others. Someone we know told their cleaning person not to show up for at least two weeks because of the virus, but will pay her anyway. Another couple I know is continuing to pay their childcare center, even though the center is shut. Give an extra large tip, and maybe do take-out more than you otherwise would.

We have been planning a hardscaping project at our Rhode Island home. It’s not a huge project, probably a week or two of work for a couple of people. Given what is happening in the economy, my first reaction was to hold off, to hunker down. My wife and I are very frugal people, and we each suffered family financial problems when we were children — my father lost his business, and my wife’s father spent a year in and out of the hospital, so we are cautious. We’re going to throw a little caution to the wind, and continue with this small project. It’s not charity. We get a project we eventually are going to do, the contractor gets a couple of weeks work, and his suppliers get an order.

What is happening in the economy due to the Wuhan coronavirus crisis is beyond anything I could have imagined. And I’m someone who spent most of his professional life dealing with stock market crashes and bear markets.

This seems beyond any one of us. Doing my small part to help local businesses feels empowering. Not everyone has the means to do this, particularly people who are losing their jobs. But those of us who are able to help our local businesses and neighbors should do so.

It gives a small measure of psychological control in an economy spinning out of control.

 

 
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