A Normal Business Clock
Introduction: It’s no secret I believe the Commie virus chapter in our history was horribly, perhaps criminally, mishandled by our ruling elites. We would have been far better off simply treating the virus, instead of trying to contain it. I won’t go into this at length, because it should be obvious; you can read a few of the Covid truths that were never true here. Make sure to watch the last video podcast to the end. It contains a hilarious montage of policy pundits — everyone from Fauci to Rachel Maddow to our unctuous surgeon general — assuring us that the vaccine would both prevent our own infection and prevent us from spreading it to others. It does neither.
(Is anyone else amazed by how absolutely certain some people are about being right, even though they change their position every few weeks?)
The Farm: during the old normal years, I was always struck by how the business cycle actually matched nature’s cycle. The second Thursday in March would generate walk-in traffic, and reservations, at just about the same volume it did the year before. Some of these comparisons were almost spooky in their regularity. You could check the same date, going back several years, and it would occupy the same dip or peak in the graph with more certainty than charting the arrival of the apple blossoms.
Covid public health policy, (not Covid itself) dealt a kind of knock-out head-blow to all of that. Children, who were never at real risk from the virus, suddenly couldn’t attend field trips. Our primary revenue stream was decimated. Millions of dollars, in bookings, fell off the calendar in a period of a few days. We were fairly certain we would have to shut down and sell the farm, but our loyal customers and staff rallied; we enjoyed a few Saturdays with enormous bakery sales — the only kind of commerce we were allowed at the time.
As grateful as we were for that surge, a business with million dollar obligations can’t immediately shift to drastically lower sales without being in constant financial danger. I worried then, and now, that we’re trying to run a business in a world where politicians, and bureaucrats can shout, “you’re off,” and then “you’re on” and then “you’re on for a little while, maybe.” Some of us in the service industry don’t get to hunker down in the living room office and take zoom calls. Our business depends on being able to serve real people, in the flesh. We hire real human beings with real human obligations and bills to pay. We don’t get to cancel the economy and then isolate in the man cave while the taxpayers keep paying our salary. The Covid chapter shuttered more than 100,000 independent restaurants, and the few families trying to survive have invested all of their savings to keep their struggling operations afloat. Most of them, still, are not out of danger.
To Hell With That: we opted for old normal and insisted on being very belligerent about it. We took some heat from high-maintenance neurotics in the media. Our core customers loved us for it and we began selling out our dinner theater and harvest programs. Honestly, we’ve never seen such growth. Sleepy Hollow, our largest theater program by far, grew by 58% in 2021. So far, so good. Field trips are coming back as well. We’re seeing every manner of new homeschool group, charter school, private school and even many of the sensible public schools are returning. All very, very good. Most Americans are something like those Canadian freedom truckers: sensible, steady, and utterly impatient with pointless regulation.
The Bad News: I don’t worry as much about the government anymore. Our own, local, county government has been sensible about the crisis. I don’t worry about the meddling bureaucrat. What I do worry about? The crisis has created a permanently neurotic sort of consumer — the kind of person who thinks their five year old is at risk for Covid, the kind of person who actually believes masks and six foot distancing dots protect us. During January’s Omicron surge, I believe this actually came to include otherwise sensible people who were simply tired of defending the old normal. They had a scratch at the back of their throat and they didn’t worry about causing contagion, so much as being accused of it. They were simply tired of their needy relatives’ constant carping. They stayed home.
(By the way, I actually contracted Covid myself, and even though a lot of my critics had hoped I would die from it, it was something like a mild cold. I found a doctor who would prescribe Ivermectin and I beat it in four days — never missing one of my 4 mile a day walks.)
Back to Biz: we’ve noticed a significant decline in walk-on bakery, lunch, and retail sales. Some of the major attractions in our area have reduced public hours and the trend is confirmed by industry-wide metrics. (According to Moody’s, January was a really tough month for restaurants.) People are either battered by the economics of a failing supply chain or they are tired of talking their fearful relatives into living again, or they are simply running out of disposable income. We are witnessing what two years of abject fear can do to the economy.
The Reservation Model: So here is our situation. We have to consider what may be our only option in these crazy times. The farm may only be open for people who pre-reserve to be here. This actually seems to be what the market is telling us. Our reservation programs are selling out, but we just don’t get enough walk-on traffic to justify hiring people to wait around for it. What say you all? I hire, and pay, for live music on Saturdays. (Our bands don’t pay for tips.) The tavern has been more or less empty. We have customers who have supported us, through the crisis, every Saturday, and we’re very grateful for them, but I must ask myself the question: are Americans ready to start living again? Mary and I took a mid-week trip to Santa Barbara, to visit a relative after the death of his wife. Most of the hotels were flashing “vacancy” signs. I’ve never seen that before. Santa Barbara is an EASY sell.
I welcome your comments…
The Trails Again
One of the few GREAT things about Covid? I lost 40 pounds walking the farm for the last year. I usually do about 3.6 to 4.1 miles a day, and I found out, today, that simply walking the old 19th century apple terraces will get you a “mile-per-serpentine.” See the pale blue line on the second to last picture below. If you ever try cardio in the mountains, you can be discouraged by long periods of gaining elevation, punctuated by long declines, but when you walk the apple terraces, you are always going slightly up or slightly down. It’s a good work out. You should try it this Saturday.
This post was written by Jim Riley