Monday, 6:50 a.m. It’s Geezer Monday at King Soopers, and I’m standing in line with a couple hundred fellow oldsters, waiting for the 7 a.m. store opening. We’re quiet, subdued and socially distant. We wish we were living in another time, that remote, friendly paradise that disappeared a few weeks before.
The doors open, we stumble in and grab carts. Many shelves are empty, but I manage to find almost everything on our list. It’s strange to be in such a gathering, trudging through a supermarket peopled only with senior citizens. It’s as if a dozen 50th anniversary high school class reunions had somehow booked King Soopers.
At the checkout line, I fall into conversation with a petite, sprightly woman a few years older than me — 87 or so.
“I guess we’re a generation of early risers,” I observe.
“I get up around 7,” she responds, “but I usually don’t get going until 10. When this [viral pandemic] first started, my grandson did my shopping, but he didn’t know how to substitute items, or really how to shop — so here I am.”
“Don’t have any kids or grandkids here, so here I am with my wife’s list,” I answered.
“How many grandkids?” she asked with a twinkly smile.
“22,” I replied.
“You got me there,” she said. “Any great-grands?”
We laughed, another checkout lane opened, and our paths diverged.
It was the kind of delightful, unremarkable encounter that has become rare and precious. We have lost much in the time of coronavirus — and without our small contributions those losses will endure.
Driving through Downtown and Old Colorado City is heartbreaking. No cars, no pedestrians, no open bars or restaurants — nothing but empty parking spaces and nearly deserted shops. I try to convince myself that this is just temporary, that the virus will go away, that the streets and sidewalks will be crowded with cars and pedestrians — that life will resume, just as it was.
No, it won’t — especially if we rely upon government intervention to stabilize the economy, keep everyone solvent and fund every small business that the coronavirus closure has affected. Sluggish, rule-bound bureaucracies, skillful lobbyists and deeply partisan legislators may agree to send us all a few bucks, bail out big players and help a tiny fraction of small businesses, but most won’t make the cut. Are you weakly capitalized, with few (if any) full-time employees and highly reliant upon daily/weekly/monthly cash flow? Are your fixed costs (rent, inventory, utilities, sales tax, short-term debt) immediate and inescapable? Can you survive for months while you wait for a Small Business Administration loan that may never come?
What can we do to brighten our uncertain future? In the last few weeks, we’ve gone from a mindset of prosperous abundance to one of uncertainty and scarcity. We don’t anticipate the future — we fear it. We don’t buy things for pleasure — we hoard toilet paper.
That doesn’t help our local economy. Homegrown merchants should be supported now when they most need it, not when the crisis has passed. As Ronald Reagan reputedly once said, “You can’t help everyone, but you can help someone.” In that spirit we stopped in at 45 Degree, an art gallery in Old Colorado City owned by Reed and Emily Fair.
“There aren’t any customers,” Emily told us. “No one on the street, no one stopping by. This is really hard for us — we rely on the store for all of our income. We don’t have a lot of savings or other jobs.”
We had long admired Emily’s radiant paintings and realized that this was the ideal time to buy one. Carefully maintaining social distance, we carried our new painting out to the car and back home. It’s beautiful, the more so because we gave a small boost to a treasured local business.
A city isn’t just brick and mortar. It’s the product of the beliefs, dreams and hard work of those who live in it, honoring those who have gone before and preparing for those who will follow. When this strange time ends, I hope our losses will be few. Maybe on some future First Friday we’ll join a tide of customers surging down Colorado Avenue, wave at Reed and Emily, cross the street and meet friends at Thunder & Buttons for drinks and dinner.
No big deal — just paradise regained.