There is justified concern about covid-19 and its effects on the country. One of the small benefits that can be found among the detriments is a continued validation of the free market. The proof cannot be found on Wall Street, where federal interference has deformed the curves so much as to render them virtually independent of individual business viability, but rather in the small businesses and the automatic filling of market holes.
This isn’t being done through federal or state guidance; if anything, those responses have directly interfered. Instead, it’s happening through the effort of average Americans.
Let me cite examples.
First, locally; a local group of friends started a cafe in the middle of last year with an unusual business model. They stockpiled dozens of board and card games and set them on shelves. Groups of patrons came in, sat at one of the tables and played games. A charge was made if a person didn’t eat there, but waived if they ordered food. They developed a core of regulars and were steadily growing when the virus hit. The first thing they did was have one member of staff thoroughly disinfecting each game as it was returned, along with wiping down the door handles every half hour. As the virus worsened, they moved the tables outside and wiped them down after each use. Plano then shut down all restaurants to anything other than delivery and take-out. Now, this small business has shifted to a rental and donation model to make up for lost revenue – patrons can rent a game for two days for a charge, and they can also buy their sandwiches not simply to eat, but to donate; the place makes daily runs to local EMTs, hospitals and fire stations, providing deli-quality sandwiches to the first responders.
Some of the local chains have shifted their delivery options. Tiff’s Treats, a place that delivers specialty cookies, has joined with a burrito chain that didn’t have an existing delivery system, Freebirds. Patrons are encouraged to get lunch or dinner and some snacks at the same time, and they also have flour, eggs and milk available for bulk purchase.
These restaurants have existing supply chains they don’t want to lose and contracts which call for buy orders far in excess of the amount they’re able to move through delivery and take-out only. With the exception of a handful of places which focused primarily on those markets (like many pizza parlors) it’s a problem common to restaurants at this time. The direct sale of staples is a way around it. It keeps food from being wasted in a time of need, it brings some much-needed revenue in to the restaurants, and it gets basics to the people who need them. This has become a common activity throughout the country….
… except for in some cities like Los Angeles, where local politicians are shutting down businesses which try it for failing to pay for specific grocery permits. (A reminder that it’s not merely corrupt Trumpublicans who exercise their power against the common good.) Even there, the market succeeds until it is completely squelched. Many restauranteurs, unable to sell all of the food they have coming in and no longer able to sell the excess staples from which they prepare their meals, have shifted to donating the remainder of those staples to the community at large, setting up impromptu food banks in their empty shops.
If you’re lucky enough to be in one of the areas near a Freshpoint distributor (a subsidiary of Sysco, a restaurant-supply company) they are, through the duration of the crisis, selling directly to the consumer for the items they carry. The oranges are small, the carrots are huge… these are the foods that go to industrial kitchens, not supermarkets… but the food is fresh and priced competitively.
Meanwhile, amidst the mass layoffs which have happened, some people are taking advantage of low gas prices and an abundance of free time to become food delivery drivers. Normally a thankless job which earns a minimal return on slow days, they are finding themselves deeply appreciated and constantly on the move. For many the paycheck doesn’t approach what they’re temporarily missing, but it’s money coming in (sometimes supplemented by unemployment insurance) and there’s the satisfaction of being able to contribute.
And all of that is just on the food side of things.
Even as many have learned how to sew homemade masks for donation to hospitals, others have developed the skill to earn money through eye-catching designs (often from licensed fabrics using everything from national sports teams for the adults to Disney characters for the kids.)
Other health supplies are booming. Face shield companies have sprung up. Distilleries have shifted to creating hand sanitizer with some of their excess alcohol. As holes are seen in the market, those holes are being filled by entrepreneurs. They are profiting, and there are many thankful buyers.
It was easy enough to predict that software-based home schooling and work from home companies would flourish; so easy, in fact, that when some Republican Senators invested in such companies after receiving their first briefing on the potential reach of the novel coronavirus they were accused of insider trading and profiteering off of a crisis that they actively downplayed (thus increasing their return.) Others have stepped up, though; in a nod to the gaming subculture that supported the cafe mentioned above, various companies have been working to produce forums for isolated people to engage with others through computerized versions of their favorite board or card game.
In another example of adapting, a host of companies are now offering delivery service. It’s not just Amazon anymore; in areas where the local government allows it, everyone from local toy stores to ice cream shops to car dealerships are offering home delivery service in an attempt to earn buyer loyalty and keep their businesses afloat.
As the country gets a handle on the virus, which will happen sooner or later despite the inept response by the President and some Governors, people who’ve devised ways to maximize profits for venues like restaurants, movie theaters, casinos, nightclubs and concert halls will be in demand, with their expertise or innovations commanding high prices. If you have an inventive bent or can honestly present yourself as an expert in space utilization for businesses, this is a unique opportunity to make money while simultaneously helping thousands.
Times are rough right now… but people will adapt, if they’re allowed to do so. It’s a concept which has been proven repeatedly throughout history and a building block upon which America has thrived.