Off Key

By Bob Frederickson

From Officers Hailed to Frying Pan Tales…

A Light in the Dark?

After Shah Jewelers on University Parkway had a window smashed one night recently in one of the many incoherent expressions of rage over the tragic and reprehensible killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, responding officers from the Sheriff’s department made contact with an employee of a nearby Home Depot who brought plywood and mounting hardware to the scene and then proceeded – along with the officers – to board up the storefront so as to head-off any looting…a vivid example of what happens when communities stand together and help their neighbors. I have no doubt there are countless examples of similar acts of caring and kindness amid the mayhem of recent weeks, but unfortunately many if not most media outlets reflexively focus on issues and images calculated to divide, not unite us.

Don’t buy into this narrative. It will only hurt you and your community.

Winners and Losers…

We all know about the hit taken by the hospitality industry due to the lock down that came in response to the COVID/Wuhan virus pandemic. Restaurants large and small have taken some of the biggest hits. Many of them have had to dramatically re-imagine their business plans in order to survive and hopefully return – in time – to prosperity. One restaurateur who realized almost immediately he would have to pivot from a traditional inside seating plan to one responding to the changing needs and concerns of his customers is Frank Chivas, owner of the Baystar Restaurant Group which operates 12 restaurants just up the road in Pinellas County. The company also owns a fleet of fishing boats that supply the chain’s kitchens.

“We went from going 100 MPH to zero,” Chivas told Tucker Carlson back in April when the full extent of the economic slowdown became glaringly apparent. But in a classic example of the speed with which free enterprise can adapt to problems in ways governments can’t even begin to approach (witness the continuing saga of Florida’s unemployment debacle) Chivas rallied his employees behind a new plan: opening fresh markets to sell food direct. He has also bought five new vehicles. “Now we’re in the delivery business,” he told Carlson. “We never would have done that. Now we’re all over it.”

“They say we’re going to fail because we have big restaurants. But were not going to fail. We’ll come back.”

I wouldn’t bet against it.

Winners and Losers Too…

Then there are those businesses that have experienced an embarrassment of riches due to shifting consumer trends brought on by the pandemic.

Amazon has posted record sales as online shopping has surged. Publix reported sales growth of nearly seven percent for the second quarter as more of us are out of necessity eating at home (and probably eating more, too).

But it’s not just businesses offering life’s necessities that have benefited. Did you know sales of swimming pools have surged as well?

Sabeena Hickman, president and CEO of the Pool and Hut Tub Alliance, had this to say in a recent interview with MarketWatch.com: “With COVID, and the trepidation with travel, people are taking that money and investing it in backyard pools. Most of the industry had shut down for a period of time. Now they’re saying their phones are ringing off the hook.”

It reminds me of a small German musical instrument manufacturer idling along in the early 1960s making a modest profit for its owners and providing a reasonable living for its small workforce. They too went into work one Monday morning thinking it would be just another workday. Thing is, the night before a group of gents from Liverpool had appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show and there for all the world to see, emblazoned on the front of Ringo Starr’s drum kit was the company’s logo: Ludwig.

It took months for the company to catch up with the demand resulting from every adolescent drummer in North America simultaneously deciding they simply had to have a drum set just like Ringo’s.

Work-at-Home Paradigm Shift…

If you had polled the average office worker six months or a year ago, most would have probably placed ‘work-at-home’ high on a list of benefits they wished their employers offered. Now though? Well. I’m not so sure. My wife works for a busy daily newspaper and in the past has often expressed the sentiment that if she could just work at home on a regular basis she wouldn’t have to stay at the office so late most evenings. Freed from the multitude of distractions of her hectic work environment her productivity would soar she would say. Well, she got her chance. She’s been working at home for three months now with no announced end in sight.

Meantime, on the other side of the equation, many employers have long clung to the notion that not having the majority of their employees in the same place at the same time would be a recipe for less productivity, not more, despite many studies to the contrary.

I sense opinions have shifted though – in both camps. My wife and many of her coworkers have been lamenting in recent weeks just how much they miss the shared camaraderie the physical proximity they once took for granted allowed: the inside jokes, the rolling of eyes shared across the room when a co-worker would exhibit a particularly ridiculous personality quirk all have come to recognize and expect in certain situations.

And they also miss the opportunities to offer and receive encouragement and support for one another when one of them is having a particularly bad day, something not easily discerned over a VPN connection, but plain to see – to intuitively sense – when they’re together.

As for a growing number of businesses, the new arrangement has been nothing short of a revelation. No, productivity hasn’t suffered…people actually can work without constant supervision. And maybe we don’t need all this expensive office space after all…

That was the case for Tervis Tumbler.

The company recently announced plans to sell its corporate headquarters in Venice, a decision driven by its success transitioning to a work-at-home plan. Company president Rogan Donelley told the Herald Tribune recently that the changeover went so well the company decided it no longer needed its 12-acre Venice property with its 119,000 square foot facility.

“We found that productivity was actually greater than being here at the office, for whatever reason,” Donnelly said in the Herald Tribune interview. “ We found that employees are happy. They have access to their family. It was a forced experiment, but it worked out well for us.”

So far, perhaps.

But I’m a skeptic on this one.

Anything that isolates us more from one another just doesn’t seem to be the right approach in times like these when so much is already pushing us apart.

Going Long the Suburbs, Short the Cities?

Following up on the local experience of Tervis Tumblers, you just know thousands of major corporations leasing prime real estate in places like Manhattan are thinking the exact same thing, especially when you now factor in the recently revealed inability of many city police forces to protect private property; so you can likely expect an acceleration of a trend that had begun long before the pandemic and civil unrest entered the picture: a flight from cities to the ‘burbs and places like Florida fueled by ever increasing state and local taxes. Over 1 million residents had already left New York in the decade before recent events unfolded, events that will surely add to the exodus. Think about it. If you’re paying exorbitant taxes to state and city governments to protect you and your property and you see that in many instances your local police can’t or won’t even protect their own precinct houses, well, if you can leave, chances are you will. And rising ‘for sale’ listings in places like New York, Minneapolis and Seattle support this proposition.

My wife and I happened to be in New York in early March just as the wheels were starting to come off. We were in a cab in midtown Manhattan when we heard the news over the cab’s radio of the first COVID-19 case reported in the city: a businessman who commuted each day to his office in the city from his home in New Rochelle, not far from where I grew up. We instantly knew this was not where we needed to be. So, we headed south the very next day. And in a stunning twist of irony, we arrived home on the very day the first case of the virus in Florida was reported in a patient at Doctor’s Hospital, a few miles from our home here.

I love visiting New York, but I’m afraid the long-term secular trend of ascending quality of life in major urban centers is over, much as it was when many of our family members began migrating to Florida in the seventies and eighties. Hopefully, the city won’t fall to the depths of neglect and despair it had reached at that time, but once again, I wouldn’t bet on it.

Attack with a Deadly Frying Pan

Two Manatee County men are charged with burglary after they allegedly robbed a local man on his boat. Jason Bembry and Jason Ison were both arrested for the alleged burglary, but Ison faces additional charges of burglary with a weapon for allegedly threatening the boat owner with…wait for it…a frying pan.

The two made off with fishing net, solar panel and knives before being tracked down by Sheriff’s deputies.

The property was later returned to the victim. However, the frying pan is being held as evidence.

Quote of the Day

“I’ve got all the money I’ll ever need…

…as long as I die by four o’clock.”

-Henny Youngman