I'm feeling like a cigarette. I quit smoking years ago, but I could sure use a conversation with my old friend Marlboro Light about now. He was particularly useful when I was stressed or in need of a non-judgmental friend. I'd just sit down at a bar (in all the years I smoked, I was never a person who smoked in the home. Not much, at least), order a whiskey and loosen a cigarette from the pack I'd bought for the occasion or one bummed from a bartender. I'd strike a match to it and for the next little while, I'd waft along with the smoke to wherever I wanted my occupied mind to go. It was a crappy habit, but it had its uses.
Now, it's reported that cigarette smoking is making a comeback during COVID-19. I can understand why. For starters, no matter the acceptance, vaping (what appears to be the replacement for cigarette smoking among the younger generation and former smokers) just isn't as cool as what smoking was perceived to be. There is no vaping equivalent of Frank Sinatra, for example. During COVID-19, lots of people are losing their cool. A cigarette makes a decent friend when one loses their cool. As well, vapers are now the target of all kinds of anti-vaping regulations, so they're starting to figure that if that's going to be the case, they might as well go back to Camel stocks.
It's all kinds of ironic that this health crisis might partially revive a dying industry that reaped billions of dollars of benefit thanks to decades of cigarette addiction and health issues among millions of smokers. It's odd that some persons today are making that strange choice, being driven to smoke due to whatever it is about COVID-19 that's driving them crazy. But, that's how it is. One person's COVID-19 loss is another person's gain. Some industries are getting crushed. Others are thriving. I doubt many predicted a comeback for cigarettes any time in our lifetimes, let along in just a short, few months into 2020.
Our collective health is important to some, less so to others, like Gov. Herbert and Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, who is also the 2020 gubernatorial candidate for the Republican Party. They've consistently failed to lead Utah against COVID-19. Their messaging has been miserable—like when the governor wears a mask for the press, then tosses a party at the Governor's Mansion where attendees are photographed sans mask. They pass the buck up at national leadership when it suits them, and they pass the buck down to local cities and counties when it suits them otherwise. They fail on a uniform mask policy, and they fail to sensibly provide Utahns with a cohesive sense of shutdown rules that may help quell the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
In the scrum they've created are the many small businesses that are at risk of failure. The choices those businesses make every day are not unlike those of persons choosing between a cigarette vaping pipe: They wonder, should I let the non-masked person into my place of business and accept that I put the health of myself and employees at risk or should I not allow them in and accept that I put our careers at risk? What is the lesser evil for them? What is their way forward?
Truth is, our state leaders have no way forward. They've left the building. Even today, candidate Cox told reporters that he is not willing to commit to a mask mandate. Forget health—he can pray about that. He's clueless and blind to the needs of small business; he views a mask as that cute thing he puts on when a camera is in the room and that he takes off when his buddy Donald Trump Jr. wants to go off and pop a few macho rounds. Utah's small businesses have begged for state leadership since early March and have gotten none. The result is that more and more small businesses will not be open much longer.
I've written here ample times since March that City Weekly may be one of those. That bothers all of those who appreciate the value of a free, independent press. But it equally hurts—maybe it hurts more—when we see other small, independent businesses suffer. Post COVID-19, you won't be eating Italian food at Cannella's on 200 East, tossing beers at Murphy's on Main Street or nibbling Lebanese small plates at Mazza on 900 South. Others teeter while still others haven't even re-opened.
Now comes another, a Utah institution we cannot lose—Ken Sanders Rare Books. Nor can we lose other institutional treasures like Weller Bookworks or King's English, let's be sure about that. But Sanders is in the pickle of not only being nicked by declining revenues during COVID-19 (during which he's been vigilant about the mask enforcement Cox and Herbert leave him with—costing more dollars), but also doing business in a location coveted by real estate developers. Rico Brands in the Granary faces a similar quandary. Sanders may be forced to leave his location due to it becoming too costly. Like Rico Brands, he may find no affordable options in the entire Salt Lake Valley. Both face a double whammy—cigarette or COVID-19?
Guys like Sanders, who can't bear to ask for favors, overcame his pride long enough to set up a GoFundMe account (donate at https://bit.ly/305ZbvJ) that may prove to be the difference between his store surviving or not. What slow death do we choose? The killer calm we know or the killer fear we don't? I'm feeling like a cigarette about now. Oh, look. Cox and Herbert are already holding my match.
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