How do you restart the economy? The reality is that no one really knows. The mostly shutdown of most of the economy for a couple of months is unprecedented. Sure, some parts have shutdown for various reasons (usually natural disasters), but the whole U.S. basically turning off businesses at the same time has never really happened.
What Is “The Economy?”
Part of the trick to understanding reopening the economy is knowing what we are talking about. In a real way, the economy itself never shut down. Money still changed hands, bills were still paid — or unpaid — stocks still traded, shoppers still bought things online, and certain businesses, like grocery stores, never shut down at all. So, what are we talking about?
Most states restricted various in-person businesses. The cliche is hairdressers and barbers. However, there were a lot of other, much bigger, sections of the economy that were shut down. Shopping malls, gyms, and perhaps most importantly, restaurants.
Are Restaurants The Economy?
Although we take them for granted, restaurants make up an enormous part of the economy, as well as the tax base for cities and states. Unlike a hair salon that employs a few people, restaurants can employ dozens. And, while service is a big part of restaurants, they also require a lot of supplies, each of which connects to another business.
Unfortunately, restaurants also represent one of the hardest businesses to reopen. You can’t wear a mask while you are eating. A server can’t stay six feet away while refilling your drinks, and kitchens require several cooks in order to prepare food; they often work side-by-side.
Here in Colorado, the Governor has announced that restaurants can start opening starting tomorrow. The guidelines represent the difficulties above.
The first effort is to emphasize outdoor eating whenever possible. To accommodate this, cities are quickly revising rules and regulations to allow dining on sidewalks, in parking lots, and wherever else there might be some open space with restaurants.
There are obviously, some big limitations to this. Not every restaurant has an accessible parking lot, and many of the sidewalks downtown aren’t exactly wide. This will likely set up a clash with users of wheelchairs who require the wider spaces. Colorado’s notoriously fickle weather is another potential problem.
For inside dining, the state is allowing 50 percent capacity, up to 50 people. The idea is that this both allows for more air circulation per person, hopefully reducing the amount of potential virus in the air around diners. It also provides a realistic way to keep six feet of space between parties.
Unfortunately, even if these regulations all work out, it might not solve the problem. According to the local restaurant association, most restaurants require something closer to 75 percent capacity to survive. The hope is that additional offerings from take-out food, and to-go alcohol service can help cover the difference, but it’s a tricky line to walk, and many restaurants are barely making it under normal conditions.
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Then, of course, there is the question of diners. While there is no doubt that many people (ME! ME!) are definitely missing being able to go out to restaurants, that doesn’t necessarily translate into a willingness to head out to a restaurant with the possible risks that exist even for restaurants that strictly follow the government guidelines.
In the end, there is no way to avoid losing some restaurants, and in the current climate, there are likely few brave enough to start new ones to replace them.
The question then, is can a smaller restaurant economy be overcome, or is this just another log on the coronavirus recession? And, if so, does this push us over the cliff into a Covid depression?