As of this week, the coronavirus has claimed more than 250,000 lives. In Indiana alone, cases have spiked to more than 43,000 just in the last seven days. Despite these alarming numbers, it seems that life has found a new normal. Businesses, restaurants and shops are staying open and people are still going to work and going out. During this holiday season, we all need to work harder to strike a balance between supporting local businesses and keeping workers safe.
It is no secret that small and local businesses have been hit the hardest during the pandemic. Without substantial government relief, many beloved Bloomington restaurants and shops have had to adapt by changing store hours, lobbying together to close Kirkwood Avenue to increase foot traffic and investing in outdoor seating.
“In this business, taking COVID precautions is pretty straightforward,” J., co-owner of Tracks, said. “But if you own a bowling alley or a movie theatre you just have no easy solution to that. We have done a terrible job of finding solutions for that. We want the bar to be closed but we don’t want to help the guy who owns the bar. I just wish there were better solutions. Politicizing COVID is the most unwise thing that we have done.”
Many small businesses have been forced to walk a fine line between staying financially afloat and keeping their employees safe.
Emily Axsom, who works at Greetings, said, “It’s been really stressful and when we shut down the first time that was really difficult because we are a tight-knit community here at Greetings, and we were all worried about each other.”
“We did carry-out five days a week, but it wasn’t nearly what we normally do for a dine-in business, not even enough to keep our doors open but we did it just to be open. We want to balance that line between people coming in and having fun with their friends but also trying to stop the spread of COVID,” Pete Mikolitis, a manager at Nick’s English Hut, said.
Despite the precautions local businesses have implemented to keep their employees safe, they can only do so much to control the behavior of others. Recent incidents on Kirkwood Avenue have heightened concern over the limiting the spread of COVID-19.
“I understand, I was in college once too. But at the same time we’re dealing with a pandemic. We [Nick’s] can control what we have inside by asking people to wear masks and stay six-feet apart but when they go outside of the building that is out of our control, and that is what makes me feel the most unsafe,” Mikoliaitis said.
Safety was especially a concern when students flooded Kirkwood to celebrate IU’s football victory against Michigan Nov. 7.
“No one was wearing a mask, no one was socially distancing, that was all right outside of Nick’s and outside of what we could actually enforce, that whole thing is what is contributing to the spread of COVID,” Mikoliaitis said.
IU needs to continue to hold its students accountable for continuously putting the Bloomington community at risk. While some of us have the choice to go out to bars, restaurants and shops, many of those working in them do not share that privilege.
We need to stop and consider what the workers that depend on employment at these businesses stand to lose if things don’t get better soon.
“I’m putting people I love at risk in order to make money to survive,” Jake Taylor, an IU senior and Village Deli employee, said. “I just find it inconsiderate that others don’t think about that and realize the sacrifice that I have to put myself through… And I have to work because I need to pay for school and housing and I unfortunately don’t have the privilege to work virtually and pay for everything that I need.”
Many are privileged to have the choice to work from home and have no need to work a part-time job to be financially stable. We need to be considerate of the employees that do not have that same choice.
“I think people in Bloomington have been taking COVID precautions terribly,” Tommy Diep, an employee of four years at BuffaLouie’s, said. “Putting on a mask and staying six-feet apart is very low on people's priorities and it's because they’re just following everyone else. That really sucks because it affects people that have to work to pay their bills.”
Clearly, businesses want to be open and want to provide their services to the Bloomington community. However, during a pandemic, one has to ask themselves, at what cost? The fact of the matter is that service workers have been responsible for keeping up a semblance of normalcy. Putting into consideration the sacrifice they’re making for us to simply get a drink or, dine-in or get takeout is the least we can do.
Finally, here are some messages that some of your favorite local businesses would like you to take into consideration the next time you visit them.
“Your actions have an impact. It might feel like an attack on people’s liberty because they’re used to going out and getting wasted and doing whatever they want. I am all for that but only when it is not affecting other people around you,” said Taylor.
“I just want everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID. We are doing our best to stay open but if even a small percentage of the population doesn’t take this pandemic seriously it would force us to shut down again. We want to move forwards not backwards,” said Mikolaitis.
“Thank you for your patience, if we could do things faster we would. No one wants to stop people from getting food. I appreciate people that consistently come through and keep our tips up,” said Diep.
“If a business requires a mask, I think it’s important to respect that. Political and personal beliefs aside. If even one person comes in without a mask or wears it below their nose that just makes our precautions to prevent the spread of COVID not work,” said Axsom.
One thing is clear — we are not doing nearly enough to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Many of those faced with the brunt of maintaining this new normal are the employees that many of us come in contact with on a daily basis.
We all need to start doing a better job of holding ourselves and our institutions accountable for protecting our local businesses and workers that provide us with the luxury of pretending as if everything is fine. Things are not back to normal and they won’t be for a long time unless we all do our part.
So please, wear a mask (above your nose), social distance and have empathy for others.
Rebekah Amaya (she/her) is a junior studying law and public policy and critical race and ethnic study. She wants to go into immigration reform advocacy.