No Holds Barred: The Best of the Worst

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Arizona has now become Covid’s “Typhoid Mary.”  Last week we were actually labeled “A Shitshow” with our testing debacle in a Daily Beast headline. We are now “the Best of the Worst.”

How did that happen?  We don’t even have any beaches, and our protests were cut short by the extreme heat.  When I look to the “experts” (who are they?) nobody knows the real scores or reasoning for the spikes let alone offer any real survival guidelines other than the new Weapons of Mass Destruction (remember Colin Powell’s WMD?); Wash your hands, Mask up and Social Distance.

We didn’t know how to “phase” our opening. Nobody does. Flying by the seat of our pants is how we got to such diseased heights.  How does this all make me feel? Like I never want to go out of my house till 2023.  It’s clear we probably won’t be able to level off till late Fall.  And God help all the school decisions.

As far as diversion or distraction goes, let’s hope this month’s baseball or basketball openers can make the leap without packed stands and glitzy halftimes.  At this point, anything will do.

Retail?  Of course, Brooks Brothers closed. Who wears suits anymore? Casual Friday has now become daily Covid pajama wear. But Brooks Brothers has been in trouble (like J. Crew, Penny’s and Nieman’s) for a long time. Amazon ripped off their infamous button-down shirts and Ralph Lauren wiped them out with his own version of Ivy League Luxe. Now let’s see how Ralph Lauren survives in the long run. Or how about that NYC Landmark Bergdorf Goodman. Most shoppers seriously retreated in the last pandemic peak months, in spite of all the partial mall openings.  Apparently, retail has fallen 82.6% since April and the smaller stores are actually closing in the super malls.

Casual Friday has officially become casual Covid pajama day.

As beautifully curated as the re-opened deluxe stores look along 5th and Madison Avenue, nobody seems to have the confidence to venture forth anymore. Bergdorf’s older clientele won’t want to take an elevator to any floor to “browse” (remember that sport?). They can’t breathe in their masks as it is, and they certainly don’t have schmooze capability with chatty sales help. Not good. After all, 75% of shopping is the social interaction. Now that’s gone. Everywhere!

And as for the popular Sephora or stores with floors of makeup and skincare — who can think of having a masked and gloved makeup artist brush your face with the latest highlighter (even with a disposable brush). Lipsticks have tanked and eye makeup is questionable — considering eyes have to be pandemically protected as well. More distressing when will I ever get to smell a new perfume as I cruise down the skincare aisle?

The only person that can touch my face, and has recently, is my dermatologist who came to my appointment in goggles, two masks, a face shield, and gloves.  I couldn’t hear her, and our usual fun chat was nonexistent as she body scanned and scraped me and got me out of the examining room in record time.  Now, in this Covid time, I like all doctor visits. There is no endless sitting in the waiting rooms, paperwork is done beforehand, and all talk is kept at a minimum.  It’s all about efficiency and being clinically careful. No endless suggestions of doing unnecessary diagnostic testings. In and out!

And in some cases, the actual medical offices have been redecorated — pared-down to the basics.  No more floral arrangements and awful wall art.  One doctor removed his famous fish tank. Too much cleaning time. Everyone wants to look like the best surgical center. Medicine has come into its own with Covid.  They don’t need to look like a slick fashionable beauty salon anymore. Even beauty salons want to look like surgery centers.  Medical clinics are the new “boutiques.”

Last week I had to get a gift at a semi-luxe store in an outdoor mall.  They suggested I pre-pay over the phone and do curbside pickup by appointment.  I arrived as scheduled at 10 a.m. opening and there were 3 older masked women (I guess this was “senior citizen” hours) lined up behind me. The masked and gloved store manager unlocked the door and gave me the gift bag and asked me if I wanted to come in and try some things on in their “sanitized” dressing rooms.

Not for me. And by the way, at every store doorway there were vats of sanitizer.  I recently read that not all sanitizers work.  They have to be at least 77% alcohol.  Better to have a container of Clorox wipes.  Most of the stores used The Body Shop scented “gel” sanitizer. Those are hand wipes — not sanitizer.

The thought of trying on clothes or shoes (the highest “ick” factor) anywhere did not appeal to me especially in our Typhoid Mary state.  When I asked her how she was cleaning the “tried on” clothes she mask-muffled something about hanging them in the back for 24 hours.  I grabbed my purchase and fled!  I wondered if the elder ladies (a few on walkers) standing behind me were game to actually enter and rack-slap and slip-on tops for that long-lost buzz of … what exactly?

After all, where are any of us going that we need anything anymore (other than Lysol and a new vacuum cleaner)?  I have absolutely no life to go shopping for and when I get one back, I doubt I will be in a luxe clothing store.

Maybe the NYC stores like Saks and Bergdorf’s and Gucci and Prada should just do their windows as high art and forget the rest.

The thought of going into big old department stores like Bloomingdale’s holds the same apprehension as going into one of those vintage Broadway theatres on 46th Street.  Old and mold and bathrooms smaller than porta-potties.  But let’s leave the future of entertainment out of this discussion of retail. After all, most of the movie theatres have already permanently closed and been replaced by at-home streaming.  Just look at the Broadway success of “Hamilton” on Disney Plus.

I did notice last week that one of the most popular online clothing “collections” was dedicated to the “protester in your life.”  They are selling 3-liter water backpacks, “gaiters” and face masks, professional helmets, breathable arm sleeves, folding umbrellas and unisex goggles. This is the retail of the moment. “Dress the best for protest.”

It will be a problem getting the older customers to come back to the stores, let alone shop online.  Millennials are already online addicts.  But Baby Boomers rarely click outside of Amazon.  They don’t even use QVC. Saks is now having high-end personal shoppers call their customers to assure and entice them with VIP treatment.  If they just come back in. They are also offering a “dressing room at-home” experience — sending 10 outfits of their choice with prepaid return labels.  And  of course, there are Saks “operators standing by” with any advice, chat or order recommendations.  It’s all a heavy pitch and feels like a desperate dating service.

As for most people,  no one will be going into a store to “just look.”  Those days are over.  If you go, you know what you want and you’re all about “give it to me, here’s my Amex. I’m outta here.”

As for luxury service, it better be immediate delivery or same day service with the highest level of personal attention.  In the end, that is all brick and mortar retail can do.  It is hard to beat “the click” button.

Honestly, the last 7 months has changed all of us.  When I look at “old pictures”  of last January (unmasked faces arm in arm in a packed restaurant) I don’t feel nostalgic over “the good old days.”  I feel slightly nauseated and afraid knowing we are headed to a whole new world.  And none of those former good times matter at the moment.  Not even as a point of reference.

I can’t look back at those “fond memories” or I start to sink.  And this is not about patiently waiting for a vaccine, because there just aren’t any certain answers right now.  It’s more about feeling like I am wildly swimming in the middle of a lake and I need to get to the other side before I can look back.  Once I hit the new shoreline, I can look back and say with a comforting safe sigh — “Ah, that was then; this is now.”

But that may take a while.

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