Last week, I attended the Boulder Chamber’s Celebration of Leadership event. As always, it was a great evening, but there was definitely a cloud of anxiety hanging over the room. It was also likely the last public event I’ll attend for the foreseeable future.
Of course, no one shook hands or even fist bumped. The “Corona bump” is the new norm. One attendee joked that when doctors are done treating the virus, they will be busy with bruised elbows. I spoke to a lot of friends and business associates who all had their own story of how the pandemic was affecting their world.
The Publisher of the Daily Camera newspaper commented on the number of advertisers who were pulling their ads as events are cancelled and people hunker down. The General Manager of one of our largest hotels talked about a flood of cancellations for rooms, meetings and parties at his property. My friend from Google discussed the move to require all Google employees in North America to work from home. Bankers talked about the fearful calls they are getting from clients worried about their loans and lines of credit. Business owners are worried about how they are going to pay the bank, their employees and their vendors if business dries up.
Downtown retailers described a dramatic drop in sales and their fear that this is just the beginning. Of course, more than a few people who normally attend Chamber events were not there at all. They were nervous about exposure or had been told by their corporate bosses that public events are strictly off limits.
Indeed, we are living in a strange time. Honestly it is the strangest that I remember. But as we continue to adjust to the constantly changing realities in our personal and work lives, we would be wise to keep an important fact in mind: This too shall pass.
I remember the days and weeks after 9/11 when it seemed like the world would be forever upside down. It wasn’t. Eventually people got back on planes for business and pleasure. They went back to New York City in bigger numbers than ever before. They came out of their cocoons and spent money again. We were changed forever but, in some ways, we were stronger than before.
Then came the Great Recession of 2008. I was a small business owner back then and spent many sleepless nights wondering how we were going to keep the doors open and pay the bills. Somehow, we did and years later we sold a healthy and prosperous business. The pain of 2008 and 2009 were distant memories.
Of course, it helps to keep in mind that tough times always pass but they are still painful and frightening in the moment. All of those impacts I heard about at the Chamber event last week have ripple effects. When you work from home, you don’t eat at the restaurants near your office. You don’t need a dry cleaner to press your shirts. You don’t stop and grab coffee on your way to work. The people who depend on you for sustaining their businesses and their jobs suffer real consequences.
Cancelled events and a decline in travel that lead to empty hotel rooms mean fewer people downtown shopping and dining. In high rent districts like Pearl Street, this is devastating if it goes on for any length of time.
As I write this column, it is Thursday evening and, given how fast things are moving, I cannot even guess how things will have changed by the time you read it. They will likely be even more chaotic than they are today. But keep in mind that we are all in this together. And like all challenging times, this too shall pass.
Sean Maher is the CEO of RRC Associates in Boulder. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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