“Your mask, young man,” I said wearily to my twelve-year-old son, Robbie.
Robbie was sitting in front of his computer in a quiet corner of our furniture showroom in Natick. He was meeting with his science teacher by Zoom. Around him were the tools of the virtual student’s trade: notepads, pens, pencils and a keyboard for his piano lesson later, also by Zoom.
I had to remind him about the mask because I was expecting a customer to drop by to pick up a chair she’d bought. Thanks to the coronavirus shutdown, Robbie’s been out of school for weeks. I’ve started taking him to work with me, trying to juggle earning a living and child care. Folks, in all honesty, it’s a farce.
Is this our new normal?
A little later, our customer showed up to claim her chair. That’s precisely when Robbie started pounding out a tune on his keyboard, a slightly off-key and out of rhythm version of the Beatles’ “Let it Be.” Our customer was generously forgiving of the cacophony. “I didn’t expect the live music!” she said as she hurried out the door. Her comments were muffled by her mask.
All day long, customers dash into our showroom and snatch up an item they’d purchased on our website. They seem almost guilty, as if they were squirrels making off with nuts that didn’t belong to them. As if patronizing any store but one deemed “essential” was a crime. As if beautifying their homes – in which they’ve been locked down for months – was shameful.
Meanwhile, shoppers are roaming freely the aisles of Walmart, Home Depot and Target, loading their carts with items that hardly seem essential for survival: paint, plastic bins for organizing playrooms, toys, grills and gardening tools. These big-box stores are thriving in the era of Covid-19.
Small businesses like ours will have a long and rocky path back to normal. Our clients are hesitant about shopping and fearful of lingering in our stores. Despite all the precautions we are taking to protect our employees and customers, we are doing battle now with a stigma because of the uneven restrictions on business during this pandemic. We’re going to be out of rhythm and off-key for quite some time. Thanks a lot, Governor.