This week, Steve and I were all set to drive from our California homes, me from San Francisco, Steve from Orange County, to meet up in southern Utah for some serious gear testing, bike riding, and canyon viewing. Needless to say, that trip is postponed indefinitely. Or maybe not needless to say, actually. For a moment, there was an internal debate: Is it better to be way out in the desert at a time like this? Surely it won’t hurt anything. Then San Francisco announced all citizens were ordered to shelter at home during a mayoral address I listened to with my baby daughter yelling into a stainless steel mixing bowl at my feet (her favorite toy), and just like that, the seriousness ramped up about 10,000 levels. No trip.
Bummer for me and Steve, but also a real bummer for the 10 or so bars, restaurants, convenience stores, and gas stations along the way I would have visited. With people wisely not traveling—especially not into small rural towns with little medical infrastructure to handle lots of sick people all at once—the economies of our favorite adventure towns are going to take a real beating this summer. It’s sad to say, but many businesses that depend on adventure tourism will likely go under.
But with some creativity, hopefully most can survive. It’s not exactly an adventure cafe, but I typically work from a small coffee roaster down the street from my apartment. Since I’m not going in now, I’ve purchased a reusable gift card, calculated what I likely spend there in a month, and put that amount on the card. If we’re still sheltering throughout April, I’ll do the same in a month.
It’s a small thing, but my wife and I have decided to do that too for the restaurants and beer joints that we dearly love in the Sierra that we would likely spend money at right now on snow trips. A wonderful brewery in Nevada City; a great coffee place in Grass Valley; my favorite burger joint in Mi-Wuk Village.
I reached out to Anne Keller, co-owner of Fruita, Colorado’s beloved pizzeria, The Hot Tomato (Watch this wonderful short film about Anne and her partner Jen and the awesome mountain bike community in Fruita, here). I connected with her during the first day Colorado mandated that all restaurants move to a take-out only policy, so she was of course radically unsure of what was to come.
“From an economic standpoint, the best thing that can be done is the continuation of spending dollars at independent, small businesses (or any business in a small town, really). Restaurant and retail employees oftentimes make up the most financially vulnerable population amongst us, and unless forced layoffs and closures come with an accessible relief package, we have effectively cast out folks to fend for themselves.
“For example, with the Colorado state mandate for restaurants to switch to take-out only, as of today we just cut our staffing needs in half. As an employer who greatly values the relationships and long term employment we have built over the years, the pressure and difficulty of this decision is pretty immense. If this lasts for only a month, it’s hopefully survivable for our employees who have just lost hours, if it lingers past the current date given, it obviously becomes much more problematic.
“So there’s that, for which my answer is “Spend money!”
“On the other hand, many rural towns lack adequate access to sufficient medical supplies and facilities, and travel to and from these places has the opportunity to spread this virus to the communities the least prepared to handle it. Do I think camping in the desert and riding your bike is inherently dangerous? No of course not. The challenge of course is whether people will responsibly choose to self isolate from the local population in order to not spread this to potentially vulnerable communities.”
But remote purchases definitely help, Keller said. Gift cards, especially so (You can buy one for Hot Tomato, here.)
It’s an incredibly difficult position for small businesses. Also for those of us who yearn already for normalcy, and once it eventually returns, we certainly don’t want to once again head for the mountains only to see our favorite businesses shuttered when we arrive.
So, I’m buying gift cards for my favorite places. When life returns to normal, I’ll have a nice little bonus waiting. Or I’ll just give the cards to somebody else and spend more money. As much as I absolutely crave getting into the backcountry, I crave nearly as much sitting down at the same brewery in Nevada City each time I’m there, or getting coffee at the same Bozeman, Montana place when I’m in town.