October 15, 2020

What's Goin' On?

by Alan Beatts 

Firstly (and maybe a bit redundantly) -- Wow, 2020 has been a terrible year in almost every detail.  From the most global standpoint all the way down to the most personal, it's just been awful for almost everyone I know.

I had a conversation recently with a friend that put some perspective on it.  They're at the age when low iron levels and / or thyroid issues start to crop up with the common symptom of general fatigue.  They'd been feeling like they just couldn't get enough sleep so, like you do, they got in touch with their doctor about maybe getting some blood tests.  The doctor's (quite lengthy) response was, in essence; "I'll order the tests for you but I suggest you skip them for now.  Almost every single one of my patients has mentioned the same symptom and, in virtually all of those cases, the cause is stress because of what this year has been like.  So, stay home, take care of yourself, and let me know if the feeling gets worse."

Imagine.  This year has been so bad, universally, that it's causing a common medical complaint all the way across the patient list of a busy doctor practicing in a major and diverse city.

That is, as they say, a Thing.

On one hand, that's pretty distressing.  But, on the other hand, it actually made me feel better.  Goodness knows, I've had some trouble focusing and getting work (or anything else) done over the past few months.  And there've been a fair number of days when a nap seemed like just about the best thing in the world.  Knowing that it's not just _me_, knowing that everyone has been having problems functioning this year . . . it makes it a little easier.

I mention this because, if you've been having a bit of trouble with the old "get up and go"; it ain't just you.  So, do like a bookseller - just hang on, read (if and when you can), and wait this out.  It's _got_ to end sometime.

On that topic, that's what we've been doing at the shop -- hanging on and taking the cards as they're dealt.  Overall, it's been tough but manageable. Business is down about the same amount as most retail in SF but we'll be fine for the rest of this year and into the next.  In part it's because we managed to get one of the Payroll Protection loans in April.  In part it's because we had pretty good cash reserves at the beginning of the year (because we were saving money to cover our moving costs).  Finally, we're doing alright because our payroll is down. Maddy decided that it was time to move on from SF so they're no longer working with us.  That means Jude and I are covering two counter shifts a week.  Since we're both on salaries, that drops our staff payroll by close to a third, and payroll has always been our biggest expense.  

So yeah, times are tough and we can't stay in business like this forever, but we're doing alright for now.  And, we're still on track to make our move to the new store on Haight St.  It's just going to be a bit later than I expected when I announced that we were going to open there in May of this year. Ah, in hindsight, there were many plans that I had at the beginning of the year that look so sweet, quaint and optimistic it almost makes me giggle now.

Basically, I lost several months of working time at the new building this year.  The first problem was the initial shut-down.  To start with, I sheltered at home like everyone else.  Then we were able to start filling mail orders and that took up most of my time.  Then the store was able to do curb-side pickups and figuring that out, then making it work, used up my time.  And then we could open again, with all new protocols, which ate up even more of my time.  It wasn't until late August that I was really able to get back to work.

Then, about a month ago, in a splendid display of distraction, I stepped on an unsecured board and took a fall.  It wasn't a bad one, as such things go, but I did manage to sprain both of my wrists.  Figuring out how much damage I'd done took a while and so I was doing very limited work 'til just this week (pro tip - broken bones in your wrist are nothing to mess around with . . . ever, hence my caution).  Now it's clear that it was only a sprain so I can get back to hammering and such, as long as I take it easy.

But, all in all, we are way behind schedule.  However, I'm not sure it makes much difference.  The pre-pandemic plan was to get moved as soon as we could and then get our landlord on Valencia St. to buy out the remaining time on our lease (much as he did with the cafe).  At the very least, I was pretty sure he'd be happy to see us go and would let us out of the lease early and at no cost.

Now though . . . were I a landlord, I wouldn't be very excited about letting a tenant out of their lease.  I damn sure wouldn't be buying out any leases. The commercial vacancy rate in town is going up a lot and it's probably going to keep increasing for the next six months or more.  What that means is there is probably no upside to getting out of the current shop before our lease ends in October next year.  Not to say that I'm going to waste time getting the new shop open, far from it.  But it does mean that there is less urgency than there was in the "before times".  I expect that we'll get moved sometime in the middle to latter part of next year but I wouldn't be unhappy if it was sooner.

This isn't really a good outcome but, like much of this year; if it's going to be like that and it's beyond my control, I'm happy to take the good parts since I'm stuck with the bad.  The (comparative) lack of pressure is certainly a good part.  I'll be continuing to work on the new building and I hope to have some cool pictures up at the store's blog in the next couple of weeks.  The bathroom will be finished soon and it's going to look great.  Plus, there are one or two other things I'd love to show you all.

Until then, please do take care of yourselves and the people around you.  We'll be here at the shop.  If you feel like coming by for a visit -- it's pretty darn COVID-safe.  Most times during the weekdays, there are two or three customers in the place, tops, and much of the time, it's pretty much empty.  If you want to say, "Hi", and chat with someone you don't live or work with . . . we'll be here.

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