Saturday, April 4, 2020

The Bare Necessities

Yesterday in my endless conversations with morons (this should be a better book than Conversation with Morrie) and the Concierge who thought the stimulus was a joke he also did not understand why people are shopping for anything outside of necessities and in turn that all the stores who have online shopping will be fine after the shut down.

Again he is an idiot if I have not made that clear as he rarely listens and like one of the Barista's I also "talk" to the minute the conversation trends into things that he doesn't know/care or understand he shuts down and goes to his head place which I assume is like a cloud of just space and gas.  I tried to explain that we are being inundated with emails after emails from vendors and stores now shut offering specials, sales and deals on many items that may not be necessary but are things that eventually I would have bought or now need.   I now have to dye my own hair, treat my own skin and nails, maintain my own health and well being that includes more than food and medicine.  I have bought books, weights, some additional Yoga props and things that during my clean out I realized I could use and would add a touch of color or add storage to my apartment.  Not all of us sit staring at the wall and get high as a coping strategy. Even I have read enough books and magazines and there is only so many shows you can stream so hey shopping helps distract you.  If you have disposable income what you do with it is your business.   And guess what it is contributing to these retailers that are not all Amazon vendors stay somewhat solvent.  There will be some who don't come back as they were already struggling and I wrote about them in my last blog post.  But stalwarts and legacy stores are a part of the community and they sponsored parades, they had amazing holiday window decorations, are often meeting places and are just places to kill time and yes buy a scarf or some shoes.  To say that you buy EVERYTHING online means you were already a shut in and clearly in denial. And yet I have seen numerous posts and rants on the media that is the only social distancing that we can practice and many are irate at people buying other than essentials while at Target or the Depot or wherever is open. And yes we are also stacked to the roof here with endless packages and items that are being delivered here on the hour. It is entertaining if not tragic as they are overwhelmed with it so even I try to keep my shit on the down low.   I guess Madonna had it right she is just a Material Girl but that was then and this is now.  And yes that includes the luxury stores that  Madonna would shop at as many are boarded up and in turn are no less immune to a downturn as the middle/lower tier retailers are, ask Barney's about that one. Oh you can't they are closed.

As for the stupid, I truly thought I had left that bullshit back in Nashville, nope its here and very much everywhere just less religious, so there is a plus.  But ignorance is willful and this young man is heavily ignorant and nothing will change that, not even a pandemic.

I have gone out of my way the last year to find vendors who are not on Amazon and there are many and have amazing options and products.. Murchison Home, Bespoke Post, Burke Decor, Royal Danish Design, Food 52, and yes I buy from Bloomies and Macy's and go in to pick up and have some frozen yogurt or some other food item while I am there.  I grew up in retail and think of it as more than a place to buy shit.  If you went to one you would know that but malls have taken a great deal of the meeting element away from retail stores via food courts but again I like to see the item, to touch it for quality, value and again see options and have choices.  But when you are poor you actually believe you are getting a deal.  What you are getting is a Chinese made product of low quality, low value and little quality control.  So have at it.

But when Goodwill stores close that is another issue that may also be a tell. The last few years we have swamped them with items that are largely discarded and disposed of and in turn while they do have some great deals the varying thrift stores are often associated with junk when in fact they do have some good things if you are willing to look. And that is one of the other issues of those who are status obsessed that such shopping means you are just that - poor.  We are obsessed with status and brands that again may be the reset we need.  But what will happen when when do hit that button?

There is no way a store will reopen immediately and be staffed and trained and stocked with merchandise. There will be a need to mark down items, do inventory and do an accounting and full merchandise refresh to ensure that all the products are still saleable. There will be discontinued items, damaged items and other that will have to marked out of stock, sent to close out specialists and many of those who have also shut their doors.  The reality is that to think that day two this will all be normal has never had a real job or done any real work.   The same for restaurants and other service based industry that will have less of a transition but they will have to assess the losses and what that means going forward.  Some will start of with the bare necessities and in turn customers will adjust or walk as if they expected that it should just be back to normal day one as turning on a light switch. Wrong again.  This will be a domino effect for many.

Retailers furloughed nearly 1 million workers this week. But the industry’s troubles are just beginning.  Analysts say at least 15,000 stores, including some well-known brands, are likely to close permanently

 The Washington Post By Abha Bhattarai April 3 2020

Mike Derse kept his two toy stores open as long as he could, but sometime in mid-March he realized he had no choice but to lay off his entire staff.

“We just didn’t have the cash to keep our employees on the payroll,” said Derse, who closed the two Learning Express franchises he owns with his wife three weeks ago. “ ‘Look, we’re sorry,’ ” he told the 30 workers. “ ‘We’ve had to make drastic changes.’ ”

Like countless other small-business owners living in suspended animation until the coronavirus crisis wears itself out, Derse is hoping to tap a massive federal stimulus program and take out a loan to get his workers back on the payroll as soon as his stores in Bedford, Mass., and Burlington, Mass., are allowed to reopen. But specifics have been murky, he says, and it’s been difficult to get a clear sense of how, or when, to apply for the pool of $349 billion in stimulus money that became available to small-business owners Friday. Major banks like JPMorgan Chase have already warned that they won’t be able to accept or process applications right away.

So far, the only certainty about the outbreak is its ferocity, complicating Derse’s ability to anticipate, much less plan, his next step.

“Most small-business owners are living day-to-day,” he said. “If we have to stay closed for months, will we make it? I honestly don’t know.”

The retail industry, in turmoil long before the pandemic took hold, is facing new and unprecedented challenges. More than 60,000 stores have closed in recent weeks, according to Coresight Research, and entire shopping malls now sit empty as social distancing — which public health officials have called the best defense against the pandemic’s spread — keeps consumers home. Retailers are canceling millions of dollars’ worth of orders as sales have gone off the cliff.

This week alone, nearly 1 million retail workers were furloughed as major brands like Macy’s, Gap, Kohl’s, L Brands and J.C. Penney told most of their employees they needed to stay home, without pay, indefinitely. By comparison, retailers shed 2.6 million jobs in 2008 at the height of the Great Recession.

Analysts suspect the trend line will only worsen: Many of these temporary store closures are sure to become permanent as coronavirus-related shutdowns stretch into the spring and summer. A number of major retailers already are operating under heavy debt loads, making it nearly impossible for them to stay afloat without sales coming in.

“The effects of a universal shutdown are likely to be profound and lasting,” said Deborah Weinswig, chief executive of Coresight Research. “We anticipate that some of the retailers that recently announced temporary store closures, including well-known names, will never reopen their doors.”

[The past two weeks wiped out all the economy’s job gains since the 2016 election]

The growing crisis, analysts said, will permanently alter an already-battered industry that has struggled to adapt to changing consumer habits as more people buy online and eschew department stores in favor of direct-to-consumer brands. Retailers announced a record 9,300 store closures last year, as such companies as Forever 21, Barneys New York and Gymboree filed for bankruptcy. Many others were hard-hit by the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese imports, which have already cost retailers 300,000 jobs, according to Moody’s Analytics.

The coronavirus shutdowns, Weinswig said, “are throwing even more salt on those wounds.”

Weinswig projects that at least 15,000 stores will close by the end of the year. Consumer confidence — which until this year had been buoyed by low unemployment rates and a booming stock market — has taken a massive hit in recent weeks, with millions reporting layoffs and pay cuts. Even once the country’s retailers open back up, analysts say it will be a long time before Americans are able, or willing, to spend freely.

The outbreak has given rise to a deep economic downturn with echoes of the Great Depression, paralyzing entire industries and sparking widespread layoffs — from travel to professional services to manufacturing — as cities and states take unprecedented measures to battle the fast-spreading disease that as of Friday morning has infected more than 245,000 Americans. And the health and economic toll will grow: The White House projects upward of 240,000 people will die of the virus, and economists expect that 40 million Americans will be out of work by mid-April.

“This pandemic is going to stay in people’s minds even once it’s over,” said Sharon DiMinico, chief executive of Learning Express, which has 100 toy store franchises across the country. “The economy has basically shut down. People are losing their jobs. Who knows how long it’s going to take to recover from that?”

The company’s stores have canceled countless orders in recent weeks and laid off more than 1,500 workers, she said. Some outlets have begun offering curbside pickup or delivery services, though sales have been spotty. Some vendors have shut down, DiMinico said, and several others have warned that their supply chains were disrupted during coronavirus-related shutdowns in China.

“The longer this goes on,” she said, “the more likely it is that some of these stores will close for good.”

Some retailers have already taken drastic steps. Rogelio Rodriguez found out a couple of weeks ago that the Goodwill Store where he worked would be closing — just temporarily, managers told him — as New York began hunkering down for the outbreak. This week, he was told the Manhattan site would be closing permanently.

“We knew it wouldn’t be opening again any time soon — used clothes are not essential — but I still wasn’t expecting this to happen so suddenly,” said Rodriguez, 56. “I’m a working-class dude, and now I’m out of a job.”

Large retailers across the country announced a rapid succession of furloughs this week as store closures remained in place for the foreseeable future. Macy’s is furloughing the majority of its 125,000 workers, while Gap and Kohl’s are each furloughing about 80,000 employees. A number of other retailers have announced significant cuts, including J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus, L Brands and Urban Outfitters. A number of others, including Everlane, Sephora and Rent the Runway, have laid off large swaths of their workforce. Overall, 16 million Americans worked in the retail industry last year, according to the Labor Department.

A snapshot of recent retail furloughs
Macy’s: the majority of its 125,000 employees
Ross Stores: most of its 92,500 employees
J.C. Penney: most of its 90,000 employees
Kohl’s: 85,000 employees
Gap: 80,000 employees
Ascena Retail (Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant): 39,000 employees
Belk: most of its 22,000 employees
Tailored Brands (Men’s Warehouse, Jos. A Bank): 19,000 employees
Neiman Marcus: most of its 14,000 employees
Guitar Center: 9,000 employees

Nearly 10 million Americans applied for unemployment benefits over the past two weeks, as the coronavirus pandemic gutted entire industries, including retail, restaurants, travel and hospitality.

The Goodwill store in Manhattan, Rodriguez said, isn’t renewing its lease. Analysts say other retailers are likely to follow suit in coming months, ushering in a new wave of trouble for shopping centers and malls.

Goodwill did not respond to a request for comment.

The nation’s 1,100 shopping malls, which have been struggling with years of declining traffic and slipping sales, are likely to be the hardest hit, DiMinico said. According to reports, Simon Property Group, the largest mall operator in the United States, furloughed 30 percent of its workforce this week — or about 1,500 employees — in a sign that it expects properties to remain closed for the foreseeable future.

Also at risk: department store chains like Kohl’s, Sears and JC Penney, which have huge stores with loads of seasonal inventory that will be out of season by the time they reopen. In January, U.S. retailers had about 16 million employees, with 1.8 million of them working in department stores, according to the Labor Department.

“Currently, revenue for these companies is down 80 to 100 percent, depending on how much business their websites are doing,” said David Silverman, a senior director at Fitch Ratings. “Even once things open up, we don’t see a significant rebound right away. It’s likely to be a slow improvement over many months.”

Fitch Ratings this week downgraded nearly a dozen retailers in quick succession, including Levi Strauss, Dillard’s, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Macy’s and J.C. Penney. The economic fallout of millions of job losses and massive cuts to tourism is likely to roil retailers long term, Silverman said: He estimated that holiday sales could decline up to 30 percent from last year, which was already a tough season for many.

Macy’s, the nation’s largest department store chain, was dropped from the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index this week, after its market capitalization fell to $1.5 billion — a 75 percent plunge in two months. The retail giant said this week that it has lost the “majority” of its sales since shuttering its 775 Macy’s, Bloomingdale’s and Bluemercury stores weeks ago. Analysts say more retailers are likely to follow.

The timing of the pandemic couldn’t have been worse for the American Dream, a $5 billion megamall in East Rutherford, N.J., that was scheduled to open in March after 15 years of stops and starts. It began rolling out its over-the-top attractions — an indoor theme park, National Hockey League-size ice rink, indoor water park and the country’s first indoor ski resort — late last year. More than 300 retailers, including H&M and Hermes, had been scheduled to start opening stores on March 19.

But days before, developer Triple Five Group said it would be postponing the opening indefinitely. Even after the property reopens, analysts said, it’ll be a tough sell: It will be a long time, they say, before Americans will want to congregate in crowded spaces, and it could take years for tourism to rebound.

For now, the mall is staying dark. “We strongly encourage you and your family to stay home,” the mall’s website says.

Shannon Burns has been spending a lot more time snuggling with her cats at home since the Macy’s where she works closed three weeks ago. On Monday, she found out she had been furloughed through the end of May.

“I’m just sitting on my hands not sure what to do next,” said Burns, 45, who lives in Southampton, Pa. She filed for unemployment benefits and is hopeful her store will reopen in a few months. Until then, though, “it’s like being stuck in some sort of horror movie,” she said. “I’m going stir-crazy.”

An hour away, Dani White was also furloughed from her job in the security department of a Boscov’s department store in Pennsylvania. Her manager, she says, has assured her that her job will be waiting when the mall opens back up. Boscov’s did not respond to a request for comment.

“But I’m worried about how long that will take,” said White, 20. “We haven’t heard anything yet. The only thing they’ve told us so far is: Stay home.”

Going Forward

As I try to find some bright side to the pandemic I think well the stupid may die first as they seem utterly oblivious to the seriousness of the issues and are refusing to follow any protocol, such as the basic minimum which is washing hands, the other is that well they will become drug addicts or alcoholics after this and die from that so regardless we are thinning the heard.

Here is the rundown of yesterday's idiotic conversations:

The paranoid Barista was not working yesterday but a colleague did tell me he is utterly afraid and hysterical over Covid but has no ability nor interest other than reading his Facebook posts where they quote numbers and "facts" gleaned from a hybrid of sources none of them legitimate journals, newspapers or even news that will help him well still be afraid but have some perspective.  Again he was a Teacher and was demanding that we "shut it all down" but had no clear idea what that meant.

Then we had the varying closing, attempted openings and delivery of restaurants throughout Jersey City and that in turn has led to more confusion and unemployment that will lead to more misinformation and of course contribute to further chaos down the line.  As even one Barista was unaware that while I paid 9 bucks for flowers she thought that was too expensive but wanted some and I said: "Well good luck as flowers are not essential and in turn flower markets where they are bought and sold to merchants are largely closed to a single source or two so that markup is pretty much given as there is no way to competitively shop and find sources that are cheaper so I am willing to pay that for some semblance of normal in my home."  Again, the commenting and scolding about price but endlessly prattling on about flowers and having to find them.  Well as the adage goes, "If you have to ask you probably can't afford it."   And again the shop is keeping the bare minimum of workers by having them cover two small shifts which means they have money but they are also not able to qualify for unemployment so the purpose is what exactly?  How about firing them all and have four people work the 8 hour day and that is it and rotate them.  Nope its five people shifting four hours two days a week.  Really? So I told two to sign up for food stamps and Medicaid at least.

And this is where most of the food providers in restaurants are doing, having this sad staff of folks trying to maintain a full time business that is no longer full time.  So how do you make that work? You don't or you have a skeleton crew willing to work the hours and accept that it is better than nothing or have nothing as there is a choice. And some business that had a strong take out will always simply pivot and some even chose to not which again was more about overhead and costs than the ability to pivot hours and options for delivery.   Some are consolidating shops and having one open and encouraging delivery but alas a local bakery could not even make that  work as they were simply too afraid so shut it down!   Again I said that to the young man after the option of shut it down also meant that while he cannot change people and their behavior he can change his and NEVER leave his home ever.  And with that dopey pony is the response and I take my leave.  I have since found a coffee shop that is open 8-4 daily two workers in total and closed on Wednesday's to take a break.  Makes sense and at least they are there and I can avoid the stupid.

That has been the biggest challenge as to how to staff. We were on a skeleton crew of Concierge's and in turn the package delivery has led to chaos in the lobby to the point I don't even go in it unless I have to.  The food and the other assorted drop offs that can be done contactless are also overwhelming that at one point I could not even see one behind them all.  Many are utter nonsense as well I too have taken advantage of desperate merchants to buy some clothing but mostly non-essential items such as hair dye, face creams, and other luxury items to at least be able to maintain my  own personal well being and have some normalcy.  And yes I do get Whole Foods delivery but that is to supplement my attempt to actually buy groceries dressed as a ninja warrior against covid but I do go.

And yesterday one of the staff told me his friends had gotten their "Trump checks" and he thought that was made up and no such thing existed. Well half right as again this is student in Nursing college, right there explains some of the problems, and in turn he is an idiot as he tried to book a flight to Florida mid March to take advantage of the cheap flights; Again - Nursing student.
I explained to him that these "Trump checks" are real but his friends are lying to him and that the stimulus has not been disbursed and will be tentatively coming next week and in waves depending on many factors.  Again he quoted his friends telling him that they have said checks so I went up pulled up the Washington Post and an article on the stimulus and printed it took it down to the front desk and left it there for him to read later so he would know they were lying and how that program was being implemented, the one he did not believe was real. I doubt he read it as it would require reading.  Okay then.

The other two staffers are on medical leave not from Covid but from stress and one man is truly too old and has extraneous health problems to work in this building during the prime hours of 7-3.  He should work graveyard, literally pun intended, or work in a smaller building that has less chaos and fewer residents.  My building is a hot mess of families with dogs and kids and they are largely idiots who cannot manage throwing out trash correctly as walking into the refuse room daily is like walking into a petri dish of discarded food and other bacteria and virus loaded packages that for some reason cannot be broken down and thrown away properly.  Go figure.

The reality is that we are in dark times and when the lockdown is lifted it will be an insane rush to go to the stores that will never re-open, hello Macy's and Bed, Bath and Beyond, and then to sit in every restaurant which were the only ones ever open during this so by this time are you not sick of the food?  And of course race to every public facility, other than libraries, to crowd out and shove others in an attempt to secure some other item that they did not buy/hoard/need online during the past 90 days. And that is when wave two will hit.   It is then in those first 14 days I will self quarantine and still maintain the Covid protocol of gloves, face mask and long sleeves. Good times, end times.

With unemployment at 6 million and climbing over 2 million from last week this will not be a sudden switch back to full employment the next day. Nope not going to happen.  Schools will not start on a summer timetable they will go back in September, the varying restaurants, theaters and other entertainment facilities will not suddenly re-open. Some museums may on a shortened timetable and some may find themselves in deep shit and may end up closing permanently.  The real estate market will get hit if they don't die off first and anyone who thinks otherwise is a real estate agent; However,   the luxury market will rebound as rich people will need haircuts, spa treatments and of course a vacation from being locked up in their vacation home.  The push for them to have private planes and other modes of travel to further segregate them from ever being exposed to the general public will ramp up and of course the public will head to buy cars and other modes of transports to avoid public transportation so that debt will increase and in turn progress on that infrastructure will cease and the aged trains, buses, subways will be packed as ever with the great unwashed as service will be cut in response to meet budgets that did not include the BILLIONS in chaos relief fund.  So many folks after realizing city life is not that great, Green Acres here we come, and with that they may move to the burbs,  so that market for homes will rise and in turn set into motion a new housing debt crisis.    Urban density will not be as green and attractive as it once was but the rental market will not reduce rents in response, re-negotiate leases as they will find property taxes risen to meet new budgets and of course wages will level back to 2008 level and debt will rise to much higher levels as people try to figure out how to get back to "normal." There will be no normal.

As for the homeless crisis it will in turn increase, the medical industry lauded as heroes now will be charlatans that played with people's lives and in turn the costs and overall rise of insurance will lead people to finally go "Oh yeah I guess I can't keep my employer care" when they find out how that benefit will be cut to offset loss of profits for the business providing said benefit when private insurance companies rise costs to offset the rise in overall costs. Got to make a profit folks!

Oddly Goldman Sachs is already "forecasting" a quick turnaround and as they are the Vampire Squid of banks I suspect that they are already buying distressed stocks, companies and other bonds being sold at a discount by the fed to encourage the economy and what the Corvid virus did not kill they will. So say goodbye to many franchises, hotels, and restaurant chains that are not just big names but smaller ones held by small investors that run several restaurants, properties  and bars in their local areas.  Leases will be re-negotiated, staff rehired at lower wages and in turn any properties that are not making the their profit margins will be promptly sold off.

And yes we will go forward. Trump will be re-elected as the lack of focus on the election, the moving of dates for primaries, the conventions and the overall hysteria will not be done by November and at that point the few who vote will and that is usually diehards who are largely conservative; That is if they are not dead as well they are old and the young and stupid which seems to be Covid's targets.   As for my Concierge staff they don't read so no on voting as one is not even registered and again seems to think Trump Checks are being cut as I write this and another is sure that we should have "shut it down" he is the doppelgänger of the young Barista so again this is where we are.

Americans are stupid, ill informed and utterly ignorant. They thrive on competitiveness, greed and self absorption. As my friend who wants to be a Minister I asked him what qualities that he possesses that would make him a good one and he goes: "A fear of God and love of Scripture." That says it all, nothing about loving life, sharing a love of God, building community and having empathy and compassion, two traits I would tie to being a Minister.  And that sums up Americans, a lack of compassion and empathy and in turn that is why they have a lack of personal responsibility when it comes to the health and overall wealth of the larger picture.  So going forward it will be business as usual. We are fucked with dinner however as some take out joints will still be open.