It’s been a full year since the shutdowns began. It has become hard to remember how fast-moving all the regulatory changes came at us. For businesses, especially, the rules changed nearly daily, then weekly—essential, non-essential; masks, gloves, 6-foot rule; occupancy limits to total shutdowns to partial re-openings; and through that cycle again and again.
The one constant has been unpredictability.
It was March 11, 2020, when Gov. Lujan-Grisham issued Executive Order 2020-004, declaring a state of emergency and a statewide health emergency. On March 16, all New Mexico schools were to shut down for three weeks, and by March 26 those school closures had been extended through the end of the 2019-20 academic year. Overnight, students were at home full-time, parents became teachers, and essential workers struggled to find childcare and academic supports for their children.
On the business side, the governor’s orders brought immediate new mandates, leaving most small businesses either shut down or trying to work under onerous, ever-changing regulations. Almost instantly, employees lost jobs, had hours cut, or were navigating the world of working from home. Since then, according to state officials, New Mexico has permanently lost roughly 2,000 businesses and 60,000 jobs.
“Without federal dollars, the state would instead be filling an $800 million hole. That’s $800 million in lost revenue,” Sen. George Muñoz stated at the conclusion of the Senate floor session March 4.
Terms like social distancing, flatten the curve, limited occupancy, and Covid-safe became part of our daily vernacular. We found ourselves under stay-at-home orders, travel restrictions, and waiting in lines to enter big box store. A 2020 census count, disrupted in mid-stream, could impact New Mexicans for a decade or more on political, educational, and program funding fronts.
As social creatures, we lost the opportunity to publicly celebrate milestone occasions from kindergarten graduations to high school and college commencements. Our ability to gather for joyous moments like proms, weddings, births, and our chance to pay final respects were all restricted and disallowed.
As families, we worried more about providing, protecting, and educating our children. In a state that reveres kinship, we have endured long separations from grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles. Travel restrictions and quarantines meant holidays were quiet and simple for most, a big contrast from New Mexico’s typical big family gatherings and cultural traditions.
Locally and around the state, the hardest hit businesses have been in the tourism, food, alcohol, and personal services arenas: fitness centers, massage therapy, hair salons and barbers, as well as visitor destinations, restaurants, breweries, and bars. Many of those businesses have been completely shut down for extended period or under strict regulations, seeing their livelihoods and their employees’ livelihoods devastated.
Businesses that could pivoted quickly and often, to remain open to serve their communities and try to maintain their staffs. Ever-changing regulations burdened those businesses with a myriad of unexpected expenses (masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, thermometers, signage, barrier screens, extra cleaning supplies, to-go packaging). They overcame operational challenges to quickly develop no-contact delivery services, curbside pick-up, and outdoor dining capacities, while dealing with supply chains that were drying up. Those deemed essential adopted rigorous sanitation and hygiene practices to keep customers and staff protected.
New Mexico’s beloved “Red or Green” is now a status for openings and restrictions across the state, not just the chile we adore. Our tourism industry, a huge part of the state’s economy, has suffered great losses.
Founders Ranch, a destination shooting sports facility in Torrance County, was forced to make the difficult decision to close permanently. That business historically brought millions of dollars to the local economy through its annual End of Trail world championships. The event brought hundreds of competitors and their families, along with spectators, to our region—spending money on food, lodging, gas, supplies, and visiting regional sites. Gone.
On the other end of the spectrum, several brand-new businesses were brave enough to open during a pandemic. In Edgewood, Route 66 Coffee and Boba has grown, leading them to add new equipment and expand the menu to include bagels in addition to their delicious donut selection. Other businesses, like Bacon Jam, also in Edgewood, saw a change in ownership. While its original owner moved to a less-restricted state, the business remains open under new ownership. Cottage industry, like mask sewing, sprung up quickly. We saw volunteers hold places in lines at local stores for the elderly, disabled, or parents with young children; and host online fundraisers and collect food for local non-profits.
The reality is that state regulations and extended limitations have created win/lose scenarios for so many businesses and their employees. Businesses that once had little to no debt, have had to take on loans to remain open or even just to pay their bills while being shut down. Families with lost income may now have credit and housing obstacles. These are real financial challenges that will have long-term impacts on many.
Humanity is adaptable, and businesses, by their nature, understand the need to adjust to the market. So, even in our sadness for losses never to be regained, our community has found ways to persevere, find joys in simple things, and enjoy altered ‘normal’ activities.
Some positives will come out of these adaptations. Curbside pick-up and expanded or new local online sales are conveniences not likely to end after restrictions lift. Remote work, and online meetings or classes are delivery models that will continue to bring new opportunities into our futures. Last summer, in conjunction with Church Street Market and Town of Edgewood the chamber brought pop-up drive-in movies to the community. Now, both Tijeras and Mountainair have created similar long-term venues. Adversity always brings opportunity.
More than ever, “Shop Local, Support Local” really matters. Every business we can keep open and surviving contributes to our region’s well-being and economic health. It means people have jobs with paychecks they also spend locally. It means businesses are paying taxes that help support local governments to provide services. It means those small town connections we value so much in the East Mountains and Estancia Valley, remain part of our local landscape.
The chamber recently began distributing “Shop-Eat-Stay LOCAL” cards. Pick one up for free at retail shops, keep it in your wallet, and use it to link to more local retail and professional service businesses, and for periodic special offers too.
Yes, it has been a year of perpetual mourning for people, jobs, and lifestyles lost. But it has also been a year of triumphs over adversity. We are fortunate that so many of our local businesses and volunteers refused to give up and have kept our region supplied with essentials, services, and enjoyments. Let’s continue supporting each other, so that we all move forward together with a renewed appreciation for the strength of family and friends, our community businesses, and the power of unexpected opportunities.