If I don’t get some shelter, oh I’m gonna fade away!
— “Gimme Shelter,” Jagger/Richards
As Covid-19 ravaged New York City in the springtime and numbers spiked here in Ulster County, my list of fears lengthened by the day: Would my family get sick? My friends and loved ones? (Yes, several. All recovered.) Me? How do we stay safe, and help keep each other safe? How will we manage financially? (I derive significant income from performing, and my wife and I are both teachers.)
These were the cardinal worries, acute and chronic. I’m sure the litany is familiar.
When the shutdown commenced, I added a new fear to the list. What would become of my many friends who own local non-essential businesses now shuttered indefinitely?
I’ve been in the area almost two decades – the longest I’ve lived anywhere – and my friends own successful restaurants, music venues, bars, yoga studios, boutiques, music schools, art schools, community theaters, etc. I’ve watched them build these establishments from the ground up, and I’ve commiserated with them on the significant challenges therein. They amaze me. It’s been thrilling to share their successes over the years. I am proud to call them pals.
As their doors were closing indefinitely, my friends freaked out in various heartbreaking ways: scrambling, laying off staff, anxiously doing math, staring at bank balances on glowing laptop screens, taping closed signs to their doors and leaving them there, altering their websites, despairing for the future, grieving for plans scuttled, dreams seemingly crushed.
Despite these dramatic circumstances, they held it together. To paraphrase Winston Churchill, when the going got tough, they kept going, albeit carefully, mindfully.
As summer has played out, I have been so relieved and excited as the majority of these businesses have reopened, all keeping to strict Covid protocols. “Bounced back” might not be the right term. But back, nevertheless.
This semi-resurrection has made me love my community even more. The establishments are different now – tables outside, only a very limited number of people allowed in at a time, gloves, plexiglass windows, masks at all times, no indoor events (yet), etc. But they are back from the brink and moving forward. Thriving? Maybe not. But more than surviving.
I am grateful to the people patronizing them, not only for keeping my friends safely solvent, but also for showing others what’s possible. Yes, the protocols are a pain in the ass, but we do what we must, and all things considered, it’s more than worth it.
My friends did not know – nobody knew – if customers would comply and do what needed to be done to keep everything going. But they overwhelmingly have, and it’s been heartwarming. Strange to watch, sure, but heartwarming.
A friend recently talked me through the new protocols of his business – ventilator on, doors open, masks always, hand sanitizer everywhere, six feet apart, etc. I wanted to hug him so bad. After weeks of fear that all he’d worked for would crumble, he is now doing okay. With the help of his staff, his family and the people who patronize his business, he’d pivoted. It had changed his body, his energy.
It was like he and his crew had raised a barn. With the help of family and friends and supportive souls, he could now carry on, sheltered from the rain, tired, vigilant, but still standing, and ready.
Read more installments of Village Voices by Robert Burke Warren.