The Week Here: No Touching
30 Apr 2020
This week, governments around the world are grappling with the critical task of balancing public health with urgent economic need…
Open For Business.
Across Germany, smaller shops with up to 800 square meters of retail space were the first nonessential businesses to open their doors – to mixed results. “They were waiting for us to open,” said the owner of a Berlin lingerie boutique, referring to her loyal clients who rushed the door on reopening day.
But the loss of domestic and international travelers is taking its toll on some. “We haven’t had a lot of customers – we’re missing all the tourists that usually visit our shop,” said Kjello Torgard, who owns a shoe store in the city’s Kreuzberg neighborhood.
Fortunately, we have our vanity to rely on. Salons in Denmark reopened last week, with clients so thrilled to get back in the barber’s chair that they crashed a popular booking site. A third of Greeks, ever the aesthetes, ranked a visit to the hair salon at the top of their post-lockdown list. Cue Fleabag’s speech: “Hair is everything.”
How To Smize.
The questions on everyone’s mind are: how will the experience of shopping be altered, and what effect will this have on consumer behaviour?
“When people emerge from their homes to shop, the stores they visit will be radically different,” wrote Brian Baskin in Business of Fashion. They will be redesigned to “fit the reality of post-pandemic shopping.” Among the adjustments: pre-booked appointments, plexiglass barriers, and constant sanitization. Sephora China is now spraying carrier bags with disinfectant at checkout.
With face masks becoming de rigueur, staff are also being retrained in how to interact with customers. “When you can’t see somebody’s big smile on their face, this is when your eyes have to become very expressive,” Browns chief executive Holli Rogers told Baskin. Indeed, our peepers have a language all their own – even the way we blink conveys emotion. Time to master the art of the smize.
From High Touch to No Touch.
What will become of the urban experience? “Cities are built for touch, yet we are entering an era of … virtually assisted ‘touchlessness,’" wrote Derek Thompson, in The Atlantic.
Serial entrepreneur David Chang is soliciting advice on Twitter from professional kitchens in various Asian countries where the sombreros have been successfully squashed, for now. Diners in Hong Kong have their temperature checked and fill out health declaration forms before being seated at tables spaced at least 1.5 meters apart.
The Baltic States are also being regarded as an exemplary region. Lithuania’s capital is turning over plazas and squares to bar and restaurant operators – allowing them to set up in the streets in order to “retain jobs and keep Vilnius alive.”
With many of its sidewalks too narrow for pedestrians to maintain an adequate distance, New York also plans to close down up to 100 miles of city blocks. The utilization of these public spaces for outdoor dining is currently under consideration by the local authorities. If passed, it might prove to be a lifeline in a metropolis where many beloved restaurateurs operate out of close quarters.
Prune, which has a capacity of thirty, has been an East Village fixture for two decades. “I, like hundreds of other chefs across the city and thousands around the country, are now staring down the question of what our restaurants … might look like if we can even get them back,” wrote chef-owner Gabrielle Hamilton, in a heart-wrenching story for The New York Times. “I have been shuttered before. With no help from the government, [we have] survived 9/11, the blackout, Hurricane Sandy, the recession … So I’m going to let the restaurant sleep, like the beauty she is, shallow breathing, dormant … And see what she looks like when she wakes up...”
As our cities begin to stir there will inevitably be setbacks and false starts. May our awakened spirits rise to the challenge.
Words by Amy Tai, creative consultant and native New Yorker now based in London.