As I assume most of you know, I own a restaurant in St. Paul, MN. We closed our doors on Tuesday, March 17 in response to the order by Minnesota Governor Walz to do so. The order was made to help control the spread of the COVID-19 corona virus in an effort to “flatten the curve”. If you’re not up on the terminology (though that seems unlikely) the idea is to extend the spread out over time so that the health care system is not overwhelmed with all of the cases in a short period of time. It does not (probably) change the number of cases (i.e. the area under the curve), but it may make it so that sick people can get the care they need.
In the process, I, like all other restaurants, bars, etc. in the state furloughed my employees. Fortunately, the shutdown mandate also came with an eliminated wait time for unemployment benefits, so hopefully everyone isn’t left high and dry. As the principal of a C corporation, I am not eligible for unemployment, but that’s a story for another day.
So, I had to go in to the restaurant today to give the delivery driver of our linen service access to the property to pick up the soiled linen and drop of fresh in anticipation of our eventual re-opening. On the way home, I stopped by Costco in Maplewood, MN to pick up a few things. Normally, I’d keep this kind of vague, but the particulars matter. The Costco experience was surreal and frightening. Costco – Maplewood parking lot was full. There was absolutely no attempt to limit the number of people in the store at once. Both customers and employees in the store behaved as though it was a normal day. No sanitizing of carts, no effort at social distancing, no covered coughs or sneezes, nothing. Zero effort. Crowded aisles, very full checkout, people cheek to jowl in checkout line; forget the 6 foot distancing, if you could find 2 feet you were lucky. If there were less than 500 people in the store, I’d be amazed. I’m guessing it was closer to 750 to 1000. And most disturbing, no one seemed to notice that this is a problem.
As I drove home I noted how heavy the traffic was for a Thursday late morning. Almost like a normal day. Which leads me to wonder, what’s this all for? Why are we all suffering privation and hardship in the service sector and education only to have the whole thing undone by retail? And, if the governments, both Federal and State, believe this quarantine is useful enough to mandate widespread closure, shouldn’t they be doing something to enforce large scale, unmonitored, gatherings like this? And Costco, I’m sorry to pick on you because I really like you as a company (yes, I’m even a stockholder (for full disclosure)), but you sent me a note the other day telling me you’d be a responsible partner in all of this. Where was the responsibility here? Is Maplewood, MN an outlier? It’s hard to believe that it’s anything but the tip of the iceberg and that something big, heavy, and dangerous lurks beneath. In the interest of fairness, my journey home took me past Sam’s Club and their parking lot was full too. So, apologize for the title, but WTF? Are we just stupid or arrogant? Either is unattractive, but combined may be deadly.