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Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Give Cash, Large Bills, by Sally Mitani

Sally Mitani in mask, holding up large bill, Ann Arbor, MI April 2020

Stipulated: It is presumptuous to tell people how to spend their money. Lots of people, of course, have no money right now. Others are working overtime under dangerous conditions, and while they may have money, it seems doubly presumptuous to tell them how to spend it. And those who don't appear to be either working undertime or overtime may have kids or parents or friends in dire situations, and are doing all they can for them; or digging themselves out of some financial crisis from the past; or scared shitless about the future.

If you're not in one of those categories, though, here is what you can do. Think of the money you would have spent in the last couple of weeks on haircuts, concert tickets, those beautiful earrings you would have seen in some store had it not been closed, the birthday party you were going to throw for your spouse, the weekend getaway, the tune-up your car would have needed if you were driving it. Add it up, put it in the form of cash, stick it in an envelope. Take the envelope to a local business that you're familiar with—some place you like, miss, know the owner, or at least know who the owner is. Lurk around until you see the owner. Put on your mask and maybe some gloves. Knock on the door. Carefully hand the owner the envelope and say: "I know it is hard to keep a business going right now and I hope this helps. Good luck." You could also spread this money over several businesses, but I have decided to give more serious help to one business.

I did this with a restaurant and am doing it every couple of weeks until this nightmare is over. Here is why I chose a restaurant, and why I chose to do it in this particular way.

Restaurants have been hit extra hard by Covid. On the face of it, it might seem that restaurants are on the luckier end of the spectrum, in that they can choose to stay open, even if only for takeout and delivery, and are eligible for PPP (Paycheck Protection Program) grants.

But PPP only lasts for ten weeks, if a restaurant is lucky enough to get it, and stops being a gift the minute a restaurant has to fire its employees—the details have been widely discussed and are easily Googled, so I won't go into it, but let's just say it isn't easy to color within the lines. As for the ability to stay open: some sit-down restaurants converted quickly and almost seamlessly to this new way of doing business. They leveraged all their social media skills, began giving away free meals, which kept their pantries full and their staff well-positioned to handle takeout orders, and advertised gift cards. They streamlined their menus. They're still hemorrhaging money, but are at least functioning.(How do I know? The master mobilizer of this Covid response is Phillis Engelbert owner of the Lunch Room and Detroit Filling Station, and you can read how she’s doing here:https://docs.google.com/document/d/1LKPQ7ytOMLZT1Urm45r3oYPDQWPXeXIJwpcOlKjUEDM/edit)

But many other restaurants, like the one I will just call "my" restaurant, because I don't see any reason to name it, is not that savvy with social media. My restaurant has a clientele which is now largely out of work and can't afford takeout meals. My restaurant has a sign in the window that says it is open for takeout and delivery but if you look inside, not a lot is going on in there. I fear that if I ordered some takeout food from the place, it could force the owner to run out to GFS to buy $100 worth of groceries and fire up the fryer, all for a $25 takeout order. He'd do it, because he would be afraid that not doing it might cause even more damage in bad publicity.

I don't know much about my restaurant's finances, but the second time I made a cash drop, the owner told me his landlord had just dropped his rent to $800 a week and he was trying to give all his employees ten hours a week, but it was hard. He said he had applied for a loan, which I took to mean a PPP loan, but because of a language barrier, the conversation got a little confused here. Language barrier? Oh yeah, he's an immigrant, and had been doing really well—he and his wife welcomed a third child last November.

And why cash? If you feel you need a paper trail, write a check, but cash is legal tender and a nice touch.


Posted by John Hilton at 5:25 p.m. | 0 comments Bookmark and Share


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