From the Publisher: What Next? | From the Publisher | Seven Days | Vermont's Independent Voice

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From the Publisher: What Next? 

Published May 13, 2020 at 11:32 a.m. | Updated May 14, 2020 at 4:54 p.m.

click to enlarge 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

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About The Author

Paula Routly

Paula Routly

Paula Routly came to Vermont to attend Middlebury College. After graduation, she stayed and worked as a dance critic, arts writer, news reporter and editor before she started Seven Days newspaper with Pamela Polston in 1995. Routly covered arts news, then food, and, starting in 2008, focused her editorial energies on building the news side of the operation, for which she is a regular weekly editor. She conceptualized and managed the “Give and Take” special report on Vermont’s nonprofit sector, the “Our Towns” special issue and the yearlong “Hooked” series exploring Vermont’s opioid crisis. When she’s not editing stories, Routly runs the business side of Seven Days — overseeing finances, management and product development. She spearheaded the creation of the newspaper’s numerous ancillary publications and events such as Restaurant Week and the Vermont Tech Jam. In 2015, she was inducted into the New England Newspaper Hall of Fame.


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Since 2014, Seven Days has allowed readers to comment on all stories posted on our website. While we’ve appreciated the suggestions and insights, the time has come to shut them down — at least temporarily.

While we champion free speech, facts are a matter of life and death during the coronavirus pandemic, and right now Seven Days is prioritizing the production of responsible journalism over moderating online debates between readers.

To criticize, correct or praise our reporting, please send us a letter to the editor. Or send us a tip. We’ll check it out and report the results.

Online comments may return when we have better tech tools for managing them. Thanks for reading.

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