On Tuesday, with a cancelled gig on my plate, I took a walk through the near-deserted streets of Brooklyn, NY.
Stella, though downgraded from its “Blizzard” status, had resulted in the closure of the CUNY Brooklyn College campus, where I was booked for a series of programs.
Citywide, schools made the decision early Monday to close for the storm and to their credit, it was fairly forward thinking. This really wasn’t suitable weather for man or woman or beast to be traveling en masse.
Surveying the closures in the vicinity of the college: Napoli Pizza, Far Better Copy, Starbucks, NIKE, various discount stores I found myself thinking about each. On a case-by-case basis, each business that closed had their reasons – not the least of which was surely this intense severe storm
The Post Office? They took the day off. “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” be damned.
UPS, seems to have stuck to its guns in affected areas and taken a break; “When unexpected events such as severe weather occur, UPS strives to balance our priorities of customer service and employee safety,” and I commend them.
The Pizza shop must have figured much of their clientele was staying home, likewise the copy shop, the coffee shop and the sneaker shops. (Oh, I was craving a slice…)
NIKE’s slogan was “Just Do It.” I guess they decided not to – as did the independent in the neighborhood, Sneaker Corner (which long ago moved a few doors down from the corner.)
The independent discount stores and the bodegas may have opted for decency, or perhaps owner-operators couldn’t readily reach their shops in the storm.
A chain “dollar store,” was open but looked empty.
An art supply/framing shop – they were open! Why? Anyone’s guess. I’ve been amazed for 30 years that this place survives. Clearly it’s a can-do attitude, and either the rent has remained low or they own the building. Perhaps they live there too.
Dunkin Donuts? Stubborn. Open. Selling Coolattas. Go figure.
I’d love to get inside the heads of decision makers. Is there an internal dialog? Is there written policy? If a state of emergency is declared, are Bodega clerks considered emergency service personnel?
Supermarkets were open. I guess with enough staff able to make it happen. That’s a public service – though Monday’s panic buying and long lines (they were showing each other pictures on their cell phones) had given way to empty shelves (no deliveries in the storm) and emptier aisles – suggesting all would survive without starving.
McDonalds, well this is America and it was open.
Burger King? Couldn’t let McDonalds have all the fun.
I talked with the fellow cleaning up to close BK early – a computer-printed sign on the door said it would be at 4 p.m. He seemed like a manager.
“It’s been dead,” he said. “If it picks up, we’ll stay later.”
“But you don’t get paid, nobody gets paid once you close,” I said.
“No, we don’t get paid. But it’s dead,” he said.
“My other job, Game Stop, they’re open all day,” he said nodding toward the video game store nearby. “They’re dead too. They haven’t done any business today.”
“But at least folks earn a days wage,” I said.
“Yeah, but if they hadn’t opened everyone would have been paid for the day,” he said. “That’s how they work it.”
Why did they open? Did they think folks would be out to pick up a new system or the latest first-person shooter? Did they think their crew would have a fun time commuting in? Did they think it was worth turning on the lights and paying those who showed up, since not everyone likely would and it would be cheaper than paying everyone to stay home?
Screeeech…. A flashback
Once upon a time, I wrote for a daily paper in Kingston, NY. I remember in one particular storm a state of emergency had been declared and all non-essential travel prohibited. Editors said – “The paper will come out tomorrow, you should come in today.”
I lobbied to telecommute that day. I had my notes and like Steve Austin’s handlers, we had the technology.
I went in.
At the time, part of my beat was weekend coverage of various local police and sheriff’s departments. I drove out to several departments and called the rest. That night I was told to stay off the roads, and call all.
We had the technology then, and the technology is even better today – but I’ll bet they had all hands report in person during what, upstate, was an actual blizzard with two to three feet of snowfall.
OK, Some folks must I suppose. Not every function has been configured for ready remote efforts – though the long ago ‘outsourced’ the actual printing to a company plant to the north.
So, is it tradition that makes a company put place of work over personal safety for those who could practicably work from home?
A member of my family is currently a new part-time telecommuter. His traditional commute is close to three hours round-trip, so on days he works from home – such as Tuesday, he can actually work a longer day (they welcome and need the overtime efforts) in fewer hours. In the case of a powerful storm, not traveling is also by far the safer choice. It just makes sense.
Sure, retail workers will always be needed behind the register (if there’s a reasonable likelihood folks will be out shopping). Even Amazon’s drones would have had a hard time delivering through the storm – for those things customers ‘must have.’
When store managers boast that their shops were open for business, it seems to support a lack of the preparedness that should make such unsafe travel for some employees unnecessary.
I suppose hotels and other lodging, if they able, provide safe haven for stranded travelers – and possibly ‘open is achieved’ with onsite staff working through the storm for the greater good.
Around 20 years ago, I worked as a crisis line operator and when a blizzard hit – I covered the phones for several straight days. I don’t recall to what extent I’d planned ahead, but I got through it just fine and seemed a hero to some.
If New York City Public Schools are nimble enough to plan ahead and announce a closure, can’t everyone else make sure there’s bread and milk at home – so shops can remain shuttered during nonblizzard blizzards?
Are you in a position to decide whether to open or close during an emergency? Whether to require staff to report? Whether to pay personnel, or at least suggest use of PTO if available – rather than insist on travel? Do you put personal safety above profits?