How are Petaluma artists, businesses adapting to an ever-changing world?
This weekend, Sebastian Saint James has his first tasting room “appearance” in months.
“I’ll be playing the gig on a Zoom call,” he says. “They’ll have something like 20 people tasting wines in their own homes, and every once in a while, they’ll say, ‘Now, here’s Sebastian to play you a song,’ and I’ll do my thing, playing live from my home studio, in one of the Zoom-squares on the call. It’s kind of interesting, and totally new, but it’s a paying gig, and the way things are, the whole world is trying new things all the time. That’s just how it is now. We’re all inventing new ways of doing things.”
Alert the understatement police! Saint James is absolutely correct, of course.
Necessity being the mother of invention, the current coronavirus emergency is proving to be, ahem, one very large mother. Across the country and the world, people are finding new ways to live and to stay healthy, identifying fresh approaches to earning money or sustaining a business, and creating innovative solutions to problems they never, ever thought they’d be facing.
For businesses - both those deemed essential and those deemed inessential but still needing to pay the rent - the innovations range from finding new ways to deliver services - including many, like Petaluma Home & Garden and Cottage Gardens of Petaluma, who are now actually delivering goods to front doors - to improvising ways to keep their employees and customers comfortably safe. Thistle Meats, Anna’s Seafood and even Lala’s Jam Bar are also offering deliveries (some require a minimum purchase), and everything from birthday and Mother’s Day presents to anniversary flowers, purchased remotely from locally owned businesses like Toy B’Ville, Farmhouse Artisan Market and Vanda Floral Designs, can be safely delivered without anyone ever entering a store.
Or a tasting room.
Or a chiropractic office.
Though Acorn Chiropractic Club, in Petaluma, hasn’t come up with a way to treat members without actually, you know, touching them, they have adapted by inventing a touch-free way of signing in when one arrives for a session. Using replaceable and cleanable styluses, a new arrival lets the staff know they are there by entering their info on a pad. If they would like to use a clean, cloth mask for the session, they may take an individually wrapped, sterilized mask, and leave it behind when they are done.
But, back to entering an actual store.
While grocery stores erect Plexiglas barriers around cashiers, install one-way signs on certain aisles and colorful “stand here” social distancing markers on the floor, some are getting especially creative, and even a bit playful. The Trader Joe’s outlet has taken to using a “Noodle Ninja,” a masked employee with a bright, 6-foot-long, foam pool noodle in hand, to amiably demonstrate how far apart all customers should keep themselves while shopping. Petaluma Pie Company, having closed its indoor and outdoor seating areas, is now selling pies from a tented table in front of the shop, with its own clear-plastic virus barrier hanging between the patrons and the pie-makers. Various coffee chains are transforming into cashless, mobile-only businesses, moving their counters to the door to carefully pass caffeinated drinks and croissants to customers who order (and pay) ahead using a smartphone app. At Wicked Slush, on American Alley, customers are offered an additional degree of protection while ordering and signing for their bankcard purchases. The cashier places a piece of clean, disposable, see-through wax paper over the iPad, allowing the slush-hungry grab-and-go patron to confidently choose options and sign their name without fear of contamination.
Speaking of grab-and-go options, with all restaurants, bars, ice cream parlors and coffee shops closed to sit-down customers, Petaluma has overnight become an all-take-out town. Along with obvious evolutions such as near-universal delivery of food, and the game-changing allowance of take-out alcoholic beverages (including mixed cocktails), many businesses, including some non-food-related operations like banks and the local post office, are making things easier for customers without walking through a door. Petaluma’s Exchange Bank, for example, has made a big return to its own drive-through banking infrastructure, once again employing pneumatic tubes to conduct financial transactions.
All of these changes, of course, are taking place in a world where many are suddenly furloughed, unemployed or seeing a reduction in hours and pay.
Among those affected the most drastically are self-employed artists, writers and musicians, who generally are not eligible for unemployment and only occasionally qualify for the emergency stimulus checks others are receiving.