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  • Playing the Coronavirus Blues
Plug-in your favorite sports cliché here, but I fear we are in only the third inning of this ballgame

And then it was July. In the Era of COVID-19, time stands still while flying.

On Memorial Day, Marin had 403 reported cases and 14 deaths. California’s totals were 95,558 cases with 3,795 deaths. And as a country, we had 1.5 million cases and 95,863 deaths.

These days however, the human cost of this pandemic is not just about the numbers in a grim conversation.

At a state level, Gov. Gavin Newsom is under pressure to bring the Golden State’s economy back online. And the debates rage between those concerned with a human cost of reopening versus those who are worried about the economic costs, as well as those who are feeling that their personal freedoms have been violated by the stay-home order. There was even a demonstration in Novato where folks expressed their outrage at having to stay home, wear a mask and social distance.

This is to say nothing of the growing political divide over what is a public health/econ issue.

Hard data is still emerging from an array of sources regarding the economic impact of the shutdown thus far, or what it could be going forward. An instructive example comes from economist and former assemblyman Joe Nation, a San Rafael resident. He now stays busy teaching at Stanford University. He looked at both costs and benefits of the stay-home order. While he found the costs of shutting California businesses down to range from $688 billion to $1.2 trillion, the benefit according to his analysis was $77 billion to $4.9 trillion.

Typically, Marin has an unemployment figure in the low single digits and it’s usually found among the most employed counties in the state. As of April, the latest figure available at this writing, stood at 11.1 percent.

Thus far there are no reliable numbers focused on Marin, but the economic impact of the shutdown is obvious by simply walking through the county’s business districts. While a view from 30,000 feet in the air shows big employers like Autodesk and BioMarin, the county’s econ engine runs on small and even tiny businesses populating cities rolling from Sausalito to Point Reyes—almost 70 percent of the businesses in Marin have nine employees or less. While businesses have done their best to adjust to the new normal, it’s been a struggle. Retailers moved to either improve their online operations, or create them. And the county moving to a second-stage recovery mode allowed retailers to offer curbside pickup.

Restaurants have moved aggressively to deliver their fare on a takeout basis. Currently, more than 225 Marin eateries are serving customers in a variety of ways. And residents have tried to support them. Even so, the Station House Café, a West Marin landmark, shut its doors 46 years after opening. A restaurant known for its organic fare and Sunday afternoon music was pushed over the edge by a rent hike that staggers the imagination, with coronavirus challenges adding insult to injury.

But the hard news is everywhere. Three Twins Ice Cream, a beloved organic purveyor of ice cream founded in Marin in 2005, shut down its three stores along with the rest of its business as COVID-19 drove the last nail into the coffin. Onyx Asset Management is currently engaged in selling off its assets.

In a cruel bit of irony, Glass Door Inc., the online job search company, located in Sausalito, streeted 30 percent of its workforce.

Hats off to the town of Corte Madera for establishing a fund to aid small businesses with immediate expenses. In Corte Madera, the funds, set up with the aid of the Corte Madera Chamber of Commerce and the county, was available to local businesses with no more than 26 employees, with the caveat that no fundraising effort was under way.

The Chamber of Commerce in Larkspur put a go-fund-me site together to aid businesses in Larkspur, Greenbrae and Kentfield.

And now, a chance to be dead wrong in public. Marin has been resilient, perhaps even strong in bouncing back under the exhausting cloak of COVID-19. But the possibility a second wave of the virus will plunge Marin into a second shelter-in-place order remains a likely outcome as people across the country grow tired of being cautious. Summer beckons and even as testing for the virus increases, a likely outcome of that testing will be more cases.

The upside? Many businesses have already pivoted to serve customers differently. But how many businesses will shut down for good, when the second wave hits? Will the state and the feds be willing to peel off more cash to support businesses?

Plug-in your favorite sports cliché here, but I fear we are in only the third inning of this ballgame.

 

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor at NorthBay biz. He keeps the wolf from the door as a senior editor at The Deal, a digital publisher of financial news and analysis based in New York. He covers alternative investment, small cap equity, the SEC and does investigative stories.

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