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Wednesday, May 20, 2020

From the Publisher: Here to Stay

Posted By on Wed, May 20, 2020 at 10:00 AM

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We at Seven Days are all in favor of boating, baseball and creemees. But not everyone on the editorial team is equally enthusiastic about the annual Summer Preview Issue, in which we try to find new ways to write about those perennial topics. Summoning creative approaches can be tricky. I remember 1996's "Interview With a Zebra Mussel" like it was yesterday...

But this year is different. On Monday, the breaking news in Vermont was all about summer — in particular, where and how we're going to make it happen. In a press conference convened by Gov. Phil Scott, state officials went through the steps Vermont's 55 state parks are taking in response to the coronavirus pandemic and outlined best practices for safely visiting them. The briefing included detailed information about what campers will be able to buy — ice and firewood — and what they should bring: hand sanitizer and Lysol wipes. Might "disinfecting" be the hot new badge at Scout camps this summer?

Courtney Lamdin checked in with the state's summer camps, some of which still plan to open. But will parents let their children enroll? Camp Quarantine could be a tough sell, and not just for kids.

Out-of-staters will have to quarantine for 14 days in Vermont before they can set up a tent here. The same goes whether they're at Basin Harbor, Hotel Vermont, or the Woodstock Inn & Resort. Bostonians and New Yorkers who once came north for a three-day weekend are going to have to stay a while, like they did a century ago.

For now, local hoteliers are only allowed to book 25 percent of their rooms — though they might have trouble finding staff to service them. Because of the pandemic and, to a lesser degree, our president, thousands of seasonal foreign workers won't be coming to Vermont this summer. Derek Brouwer looked into the potential economic impacts of that labor shortage in his article "No Exchange?"

On Monday, Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore made the obvious suggestion: Since out-of-state travel is discouraged, why don't Vermonters vacation right here? It's the tourism department's newest marketing strategy, as Kevin McCallum reports. Kayak the pristine waters of the Green River Reservoir to a remote camping spot. Sit in a rocker with a good book on the porch at Highland Lodge. Hit the 273-mile Long Trail — which, like so many other popular hiking destinations, is likely to be crowded this summer, Chelsea Edgar predicts in "The Great, Masked Outdoors."

Easier routes: reading, virtual birding and — maybe — baseball.

Looking for a snack while you're on the go? Food trucks are rolling and seemingly pandemic-proof.

It's up to us Vermonters to make the most of a bad situation. On the positive side: We've got the perfect playground.

Savor the sunshine,

Paula Routly

P.S. Thanks to assistant arts editor Dan Bolles for curating this week's selection of stories.

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Wednesday, May 13, 2020

From the Publisher: What Next?

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 11:32 AM

ROB DONNELLY
  • Rob Donnelly

What will life look like on the other side of the coronavirus pandemic? Will we shed our sweats and return to the office? Stroll mask-free downtown? When can we gather en masse to watch movies, hear music?

No one has definitive answers to these questions — including the 15 thoughtful Vermonters who share their observations, worries and predictions in this week's cover story, "After the Fire." The ambiguity before us is unprecedented — and fascinating, perhaps, if you are lucky enough to be healthy and have a job that is secure, safe and can be done remotely.

But if you're a local business owner, it's torture. Resurrecting even the smallest commercial enterprise requires planning, money and marketing — and some sectors of the economy have been called back to work with scant notice. Vermont real estate agents found out on a Friday that they could return to work after the weekend. Golf courses got a single day's warning.

On Monday, Gov. Phil Scott announced that retail stores could reopen one week hence, provided they limit the number of customers to 25 percent of capacity. They've got seven days to rehire and train workers who, thanks to a federal supplement to state unemployment benefits, could be making more money by not working than they did in their previous — and now significantly more dangerous — jobs.

For that and other reasons, not every local merchant will be able to reopen immediately. To assist, this week Seven Days built and launched an online directory to get the word out about who's selling what and how — in person and online. We recommend checking the local Register before shopping on Amazon. Let's keep those dollars here, where we need them, instead of sending them to Jeff Bezos.

Meanwhile, restaurants are eagerly awaiting guidance that has yet to come. In a recent email, Penny Cluse Café chef-owner Charles Reeves put the delay dilemma in perspective: "Purchasing, training, prepping, teching up will all take time, and we'd like to hit the ground running when we safely get the green light," he wrote. "Even just to hear 'not before June 15' would frame things significantly."

Assuming they get back up and running, restaurants face another challenge: Can they make enough money to operate while meeting anticipated social-distancing requirements? Last weekend a coalition of local restaurateurs started circulating a petition calling for "easily accessible direct aid" to prevent an estimated one-third of Vermont's food establishments from going under.

Seven Days has been reporting the news nonstop through the pandemic. But the difficulties of our fellow businesses imperil our media company, which depends almost entirely on advertising and event revenue to pay the bills. When that income was reduced by half overnight, we asked our readers for help, and you responded generously. Our Super Readers subscriptions are now generating more than $1,500 a week — the approximate cost of a full-page ad — to help fund our journalism. As Seven Days was being produced on Tuesday, we learned that our first collaboration with Vermont Public Radio, about lax oversight of Vermont's eldercare facilities, won a regional Edward R. Murrow Award for investigative journalism. In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the "Worse for Care" series seems prescient now.

Like many other small businesses in Vermont, Seven Days also applied for a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program. The money subsidized the restoration of pre-pandemic staffing levels and allows the sales team to breathe a little easier for the next six weeks, while they roll out some free products and services to help their clients — our advertisers.

What awaits after June 16, the day our golden carriage turns back into a pumpkin? We're doing everything humanly possible to prepare for a new reality, whatever it turns out to be.

That means keeping an eye out for opportunities. As serial entrepreneur Alan Newman told Paul Heintz in this week's cover story: "I think that, long term, there could be some real positives coming out of this." Here's hoping that strengthened community support for Vermont businesses and local media are among them.

Paula Routly

Seven Days Launches the Register, a Guide to Shopping Locally Online

Posted By on Wed, May 13, 2020 at 9:18 AM

JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
On Monday, May 11, Gov. Phil Scott announced that retail stores may reopen with capacity limits on Monday, May 18. This news comes after Vermont merchants were mandated to close storefronts during the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses reopen their doors to the public, they’ll have to adopt new safety precautions and evolve traditional business practices.

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With everyone taking different approaches — because one size does not fit all — how can shoppers find what they need locally? Seven Days has created the Register to help answer that question.

The Register is a directory of Vermont businesses that provide shipping, delivery or curbside pickup of their products. The initial list is primarily focused on small, locally owned retailers in Burlington, with plans to expand to other regions of the state. Shoppers can browse by categories ranging from jewelry to electronics, outdoor gear to apparel.

“The goal is to provide a convenient local alternative to Amazon, to keep Vermont dollars here,” said Seven Days publisher and coeditor Paula Routly. “Jeff Bezos is never going to sponsor the Discover Jazz Festival or the Vermont City Marathon. By going to the Register, and buying local online, shoppers are choosing to invest in their communities now and into the future.”

To view the guide, visit shoptheregister.com. Got an update for an existing listing? Don’t see your business on the list? Contact us at theregister@sevendaysvt.com.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

From the Publisher: The Summer That Wasn't

Posted By on Wed, May 6, 2020 at 12:27 PM

Amelia Stacey's journal entry
  • Amelia Stacey's journal entry

On Monday, Shelburne Museum announced that it would not open to the public for the first time in 73 years. Similar historic decisions have come from Camp Hochelaga in South Hero and the Aloha Foundation camps on Lake Morey and Lake Fairlee. It's going to be a strange summer.

But not, perhaps, Vermont's worst. In 1816, the state's most anticipated season never came.

The 1815 eruption of Mount Tambora, a volcano in Indonesia, spewed ash into the atmosphere, causing weird weather around the globe. Vermonters experienced snow in June and freezing weather in August that killed crops. 1816 was known as "the year without a summer," or "1800 and froze to death."

More terrifying, people didn't understand what was going on. There was no telegraph, radio, telephones, internet or Front Porch Forum to explain the temporary phenomenon. Nineteenth-century Vermonters couldn't just crank up the thermostat or run to the grocery store to pick up extra food.

The best accounts of that time come from the journals of Vermonters who recorded their experiences. On June 8, 1816, Rufus Hovey from Brookfield wrote, "Froze all day. Ground covered with snow all day. Ground froze five or six nights. All the trees on the high land turned black."

Learning about "the year without a summer" is part of the Good Citizen Coronavirus Challenge, a civics project organized by Kids VT, Seven Days' parenting publication; the May issue is inside this week's paper. Each Wednesday, the "challenge masters" post new activities to goodcitizenvt.com in three timely subjects: history, news literacy and community engagement. The tasks illustrate how Americans have endured trials in the past, explain how to evaluate information online, and empower kids to pitch in and help their friends and neighbors. For each activity they complete, participants are entered into a weekly drawing to win a $25 gift card to Phoenix Books and other prizes.

This past week, we asked kids to write three journal entries about the strange time we're living in now. Amelia Stacey of Berlin sent this illustration with a written explanation: "This pandemic only gets worse. Grampie is sick and we can't be there with him. I love him."

Documentation is one way to help make sense of a difficult experience, to put it in perspective, to get through it. This week's Seven Days features essays, poems and cartoons from notable Vermonters reflecting on the pandemic, including Stephen Kiernan, Kimberly Harrington, Rajnii Eddins, Sue Halpern and James Kochalka. It's our literary "quaranzine" — see Dan Bolles' intro to the package.

Also in this paper: local news. Lots of it. We're mindful that, as Philip Graham said, "Journalism is the first rough draft of history."

We are all part of it.

Paula Routly

P.S. Thanks to Victoria Hughes at the Vermont Historical Society, who reminded us about "the year without a summer," and to the Vermont Community Foundation and the Evslin Family Foundation for underwriting the Good Citizen Coronavirus Challenge.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

From the Publisher: 'A Proper Goodbye'

Posted By on Wed, Apr 29, 2020 at 10:15 AM

Paula Routly, Angie Routly and Tim Ashe - COURTESY IMAGE
  • Courtesy Image
  • Paula Routly, Angie Routly and Tim Ashe

While Chelsea Edgar has been reporting this week's cover story about death and grieving during the coronavirus pandemic, my 93-year-old mother and I have been living it.

On April 16, three days after my 60th birthday, my mom, Angie, was scheduled to have a CT scan at the hospital. A staffer at the Converse Home brought her up to the University of Vermont Medical Center, where I met her at the front entrance.

We both were looking forward to spending some time together, even in a waiting room; we hadn't been face-to-face since early March, when Converse banned visitors to protect its residents from the coronavirus. A few weeks later, residents were confined to their rooms.

Masked and gloved, I wheeled my mom inside, where I was quickly disabused of my mother-daughter fantasy. Hospital protocols had changed overnight because of heightened concern about COVID-19. I could not go in with my mom, nor could I wait in the lobby while she had the test. She was scared and confused. When they took her away, I noticed she was hugging her purse. I spent the next hour peering in the windows, worrying she might never emerge.

Later that day, I got the news: My mom has late-stage ovarian cancer. She's too old and frail for treatment, so it's a terminal diagnosis. Would she have to spend her dying days on lockdown? I was fully prepared to bring her to my home when I got the word from Converse, where she has lived happily and safely for almost two and a half years: My mom could stay where she is, and my boyfriend and I would be allowed to visit, with precautions. The facility is making case-by-case exceptions for end-of-life care. Although the rule restricts others from seeing my mom, this arrangement is the best we could hope for in the middle of a pandemic.

I know the families of people dying in the hospital — of COVID-19 and other maladies — are being denied that closure.

For the past week, I've spent most of every day in my mom's apartment, lurching between the high-wire act of producing Seven Days during a time of crisis and tending to her needs: trying to get her to eat, monitoring her meds, helping her in the bathroom, facilitating phone calls with friends and finding words to tell her how much she means to me.

As painful as it is, I'm grateful for this opportunity to say a proper goodbye. In this strangest of times, so many people don't have even that.

Other things I'm grateful for: spring; my friends and neighbors; and Seven Days' incredible team of reporters, editors, designers, account executives and circulation drivers who are going above and beyond to help me, help each other, and report on and deliver the news.

Watching Super Reader contributions come in — at all times of day and night — keeps me going, too. They're reassurance that the community sees and appreciates our efforts.

Many, many thanks,
Paula Routly

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

From the Publisher: Extra, Extra! Effort

Posted By on Wed, Apr 22, 2020 at 9:49 AM

Circulation deputy Jeff Baron testing out a DIY bike trailer prototype - REV. DIANE SULLIVAN
  • Rev. Diane Sullivan
  • Circulation deputy Jeff Baron testing out a DIY bike trailer prototype

Almost every aspect of producing a newspaper has changed since September 6, 1995 — the publication date of the inaugural Seven Days.

With a laptop and a smartphone, journalists can report stories from anywhere. Editing, designing and sending the paper to the printer requires software that didn't exist in the '90s. Also nonexistent back then: Zoom, Google Hangouts, Trello, Slack and Airtable, which all enable our staff to collaborate remotely during the pandemic.

There's just one department that still operates as it did 25 years ago: circulation. Every Wednesday morning, a truck loaded with freshly printed papers — that has traveled through the wee hours — pulls up to the loading dock behind our building. A team of drivers meets it; loads up their cars, trucks and vans with bundles of papers; then departs to deliver Seven Days to far-flung corners of Vermont.

Sure, they're wearing masks and gloves and packing locally made hand sanitizer these days, but the job itself hasn't changed much.

People's habits have, though. The COVID-19 pandemic has shuttered many of our pickup spots, and trips to the grocery store are more stressful. Some people shop only once every few weeks and might miss an issue or two. The entire paper — ads and all — is available in digital form, but many readers find having a print copy reassuring during this historic time.

So last week, after our usual Wednesday deliveries, we tried something new — er, old. On Saturday, circulation deputy Jeff Baron borrowed a bike and a trailer from Burlington's Old Spokes Home, loaded it up with stacks of Seven Days and hit the streets of the Queen City.

Art director Diane Sullivan rode behind him on a BMX bike with a Bluetooth speaker blasting the Clash's "London Calling." Bringing the papers to the people!

Starting this week, Seven Days staffers will visit neighborhoods in Burlington and Winooski — à la the August First bread bike — on some Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, weather permitting. Look for the "route of the day" on the Seven Days Facebook page and Instagram Live.

A neighborhood rack on Lakeview Terrace - PAULA ROUTLY
  • Paula Routly
  • A neighborhood rack on Lakeview Terrace

We've also added some new neighborhood drop spots. A number of employees — and some former ones — have put Seven Days racks in their front yards.

Some readers have even volunteered to take actual paper routes, showing off their folding and tossing techniques. We're looking into that, too.

Whatever it takes.

Read on,
Paula Routly

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

From the Publisher: Something to Celebrate

Posted By on Wed, Apr 15, 2020 at 11:18 AM

A young Paula Routly and her sister
  • A young Paula Routly and her sister

I was 35 when we started Seven Days. On Monday, I turned 60.

I had planned to be in Mexico for the occasion — frankly, to avoid the whole thing — but instead I was glued to the computer, in my home office, in the middle of a pandemic, sweating into a bathrobe I have been wearing for the last month.

I'm not big on birthdays, but when you're born in a year that's divisible by 10 — in my case, 1960 — you can't help but fast-forward to the momentous ones. In 2000, four months into the new millennium, I turned 40. Two decades hence, I knew this one would fall during a leap year with Olympics and a presidential election, but I had not counted on the biggest global economic shutdown since the Great Depression.

In short, this was not how I pictured my 60th. Anyone celebrating a milestone right now surely knows what I mean.

In truth, nobody could have imagined how we're all living today: hunkered down in our respective safe houses, socializing on computer screens that look like the old "Hollywood Squares" game show, venturing out to score supplies like masked survivalists.

Seven Days has been documenting the new reality, from the medical preparations and budget impacts to takeout trends and livestreamed concerts. In her "Stuck in Vermont" video last week, Eva Sollberger found great examples of local communities getting through this tough time together in creative ways.

This week's issue of Seven Days marks the fourth we've put out remotely. The once-bustling office is pretty much abandoned, except for a few occasional employees. Instead of poring over the paper together, looking for last-minute errors on Tuesday nights, we are communicating via Slack and scrutinizing finished pages on a computer server.

It's slower, and harder on the eyes, but it seems to be working.

Similarly, we're finding new ways to sustain Seven Days financially. Iconic Vermont businesses have stepped up to support our local journalism. And thousands have sent donations or become paying Super Reader subscribers — or both. An outpouring of community support has given us the confidence, and the cash, to keep going.

It's one example of Vermonters coming together to preserve what matters to them — and there are other bright lights in this week's issue, illuminating a path of hard work and good deeds through this dark time.

I can't think of a better birthday present.

With gratitude,
Paula Routly

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

From the Publisher: Make Room for the Kids

Posted By on Wed, Apr 8, 2020 at 11:37 AM

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At 112 pages, this week's issue of Seven Days is back to its pre-pandemic size. Not because the crisis is over, but because we've inserted the April issue of Kids VT, our award-winning monthly parenting publication. We made that decision in order to conserve resources — after all, money is the theme of this week's Seven Days! And because many of the regular Kids VT drop-off spots — schools, childcare centers and other family-focused venues — are closed.

The combo issue is a sign of the times. Tens of thousands of young Vermonters are suddenly stuck at home with overtaxed parents and caregivers desperate to keep them occupied.

The April 2020 Kids VT will help. It's full of homeschooling tips and resources, as well as gardening ideas and first-person accounts of parenting through a pandemic. One regular columnist works at a local grocery chain; she shares what life has been like on the front lines. Find an April-showers-themed coloring contest on page 34.

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This issue of Kids VT also celebrates the 215 young Vermonters who completed the 2019-20 Good Citizen Challenge. The interactive civics project, funded by the Vermont Community Foundation, launched last October and concluded on March 6. Participants completed quizzes and activities in five subject areas: History, Government, Community Engagement, Advocacy and News Literacy.

Though that Challenge is over, a new one begins this week: the Good Citizen Coronavirus Challenge. It invites any K-12 student to complete activities to be entered into a weekly prize drawing. This Challenge will focus on learning history, helping the community and practicing news literacy. Find more info and sign up for email alerts at goodcitizenvt.com.

Meanwhile, Seven Days' long-scheduled Money Issue has taken on new relevance. Can anyone explain what just happened to our economy? Can it be saved? Seven Days is one of hundreds of thousands of small businesses around the country applying for a loan through the federal Paycheck Protection Program, created by the newly passed Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act. There's no guarantee that we'll get it, of course, but we had to try — right, Community Bank? As Vermont's largest circulation newspaper, we will do everything humanly possible to keep the news coming and our talented staff employed.

Many thanks to the advertisers who are still doing business with Seven Days — and paying their bills — during this crazy time. And we could not be more grateful to the 1,300-plus Super Readers whose donations are paying for everything from reporter salaries to printing and hand sanitizer. If you appreciate our efforts, please join them.

As we like to say: Seven Days is free; making it isn't. We hope you find this week's issue useful, informative and entertaining. And, starting this week, look for a new, second crossword puzzle — sponsored by New England Federal Credit Union.

With appreciation,
Paula Routly

Thursday, April 2, 2020

From the Publisher: This Newspaper Is ‘Essential’ — and Handled With Care

Posted By on Thu, Apr 2, 2020 at 10:29 AM

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As this week’s Seven Days goes to press, 293 Vermonters have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus; 13 have died. Both numbers are expected to rise.

We’ve seen other kinds of casualties, too, in our state. Tens of thousands of Vermont workers have been laid off from their jobs. Libraries, theaters, museums, community centers and places of worship have shut their doors. Iconic restaurants and local businesses have closed.

So far, that includes at least one local newspaper. On March 25, Paul Heintz reported on the demise of the Waterbury Record. He’s also covered layoffs at the Rutland Herald and Barre-Montpelier Times Argus, the Valley News and Seven Days, as well as furloughs at the Bennington Banner, Brattleboro Reformer and Manchester Journal. The Addison County Independent is now printing one issue a week instead of two. The Essex Reporter, Milton Independent and Colchester Sun are still publishing online but have ceased printing altogether.

A few readers have asked why Seven Days keeps printing and distributing the paper, when Gov. Phil Scott has issued an order closing all but essential businesses. Is journalism “essential”?

Gov. Scott believes it is, and so do we. So did our country’s founders, who protected freedom of the press in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, alongside the freedoms of speech, religion, assembly and the right to petition the government for redress of grievances.

But, now that we can deliver the news online, is distributing a paper copy still necessary — or even wise in a pandemic?

We believe it’s both. Many of our readers, especially those with unreliable internet, depend on the paper as a primary news source. Others appreciate the variety and serendipity of a print product that reads like a magazine. People tell us they like being able to flip through the pages and see ads from local businesses, that they love doing the puzzles and reading the comics, that reading the paper gives them a sense of normalcy in these trying times.

Now that gathering together in groups is impossible, the paper functions as a community conduit — physical evidence of the place we share — that holds us together.

Fortunately, the virus doesn’t appear to live long on porous surfaces such as newsprint. There hasn’t been a single reported case of someone getting sick from a newspaper, magazine, letter or package delivery. Feeling extra cautious? Wash your hands after handling the paper. According to the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this virus is thought to spread through person-to-person contact. That’s why Seven Days’ circulation drivers wear gloves when delivering the paper. They also practice social distancing. This helps keep them, and members of the public, safe. For an up-to-date list of drop-off spots, go to sevendaysvt.com/delivery.

Speaking of the paper, you’ll see more changes in this week’s issue. First, it’s smaller, at 64 pages; the number of ads we sell determines the size. The classifieds section — including the puzzles — has moved to the back. And the movie and art sections, like the calendar, are gone for now.

Also new: We now have 1,000-plus Super Readers supporting us financially. The donations that have poured in over the past few weeks have helped us to keep going — figuratively and literally. Those dollars will replace some of the advertising revenue that vanished overnight as a result of the coronavirus crisis. For almost 25 years, that revenue has been our primary source of income and the reason Seven Days is free. Our heartfelt thanks to everyone who has donated.

To become a Super Reader yourself, click here to “Give Monthly” or “Give Now," or contact us directly at superreaders@sevendaysvt.com

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Letter From The Publisher

Posted By on Wed, Mar 25, 2020 at 2:40 PM

Paula Routly "visiting" with her mother, Angie, at the Converse Home. Also pictured: Sue Haman - COURTESY OF SUZIE MCCOY
  • COURTESY OF SUZIE MCCOY
  • Paula Routly "visiting" with her mother, Angie, at the Converse Home. Also pictured: Sue Haman


 The coronavirus pandemic has upended all of our lives.

This week's Seven Days shares glimpses into how Vermonters are coping and adapting. I contributed a vignette about Burlington’s Converse Home. That’s the back of my head in the photo above, visiting with my 93-year-old mom through a window. Thanks to cellphones, we could actually have a conversation. It’s heartbreaking but comforting to know she is as safe as can be.

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