Since stay-at-home orders went into place in mid-March, I’ve taken more “rescue Xanax” (my primary care physicians’ moniker) than I care to admit. Constant conflicting information, financial fears, being stuck at home — all of it has catapulted all of us into a collective crisis and has exacerbated symptoms for those of us with existing mental health issues.
As the owner and chef of an award-winning bed and breakfast and restaurant in Central Illinois, I’m feeling overwhelmed. Thanks to a creative business model that has made us a destination due to our gourmet cuisine in a small-town atmosphere, we’ve managed to sustain a thriving business for over 15 years, even through the 2008 financial crisis.
When we were forced to close our doors in March, suddenly, we felt incredibly vulnerable. As financial programs like the payment protection program (PPP) were announced, we began to realize that we didn’t fit into the government’s definition of a “small business.” We are an owner-operated business with no employees. Not only do we not qualify for any kind of financial assistance, but we are also incredibly vulnerable to potentially spreading the virus without adequate precautions in place to protect ourselves and our clientele, which is an enormous liability issue.
As businesses around the country are clambering to reopen, we have gone round in circles trying to weigh our financial struggles with what is safe for our patrons, and frankly, if our marriage survives this, it’ll be a miracle. I’m being slightly facetious, but if you were a fly on the wall you’d hear us heatedly debating how to safely and adequately sanitize every inch of our guest suites, how to serve food safely, how to ensure social distancing, how to require masks, how to serve coffee and treats without guests touching anything, how frequently to sanitize public areas, what chemicals to use, etc., for hours and hours every day. It’s made both my husband and I incredibly anxious and has put undue pressure on us as a couple both living together and working together.
It’s not that there is no information out there; it’s that the information is often sporadic, inconsistent, not detailed and changes constantly as this virus seems to find new ways of infecting people. We know that people can be asymptomatic and bring the virus to the inn and infect us, which then can infect other future guests, and the responsibility and guilt of that is almost unbearable to fathom.
We have thought through a very detailed plan of action that we will institute when we reopen, which we have made public to our guests (see here) but even with those precautions in place, we do not feel safe reopening yet, no matter what the government or protestors insist. We see these protestors refusing to wear masks, bringing guns to businesses and threatening them with retaliation for upholding safety protocols, and it terrifies us.
It’s like walking a tightrope with no net below to catch us. On the one end is staying closed and possibly losing everything. On the other end is being reopened and possibly becoming sick or making a guest sick. Below us is the dangerous chasm that represents the choices we have to weigh to reopen. And it’s a terrifying precipice that balances the reality of life or death.
I’ve been watching the political vitriol that has become the norm all over this country, pitting the rights of citizens to do what they want against the rights of citizens to be safe and stay alive and I’m disheartened. Viruses don’t care about politics. They don’t care about country of origin. They do what they want to and we seem to ignore that fact. I fear that my erring on the side of caution by staying closed longer than others want me to means alienating a wide swath of our clientele because they perceive me as a sheep or some kind of “radical nut” drinking the proverbial conspiracy Kool-Aid.
What I want everyone to know is that I’m not interested in talking points by media bobbleheads. I’m not interested in what politicians say. I’m only interested in what the current science says and what that means for our guests and myself. My only job is hospitality. I am here to create a comfortable and safe environment for my patrons. Until I can absolutely guarantee that I have the ability to do so, I refuse to cave to pressure or harassment.
I used to let bullies affect me as a kid. I allowed my behavior to be influenced by others because I was afraid of conflict and therefore I stifled who I am. I’m done being controlled by others. I’m here to be true to myself and my core beliefs as a human who deeply cares about others. I will honor my self as a person who deserves to put my own safety and well-being first and, as such, I’m going put my proverbial and literal mask on myself before I can offer my assistance to others. I hope that our clientele will view this as an act of respect, empathy and responsibility and not as a political statement. In the meantime, they can view daily cooking instruction videos I’ve been putting up since quarantine began to keep them entertained and well-fed via our YouTube channel. A virtual hug, if you will.
From our home away from home to yours: stay safe, stay healthy and be patient. We are all in this together and we can’t wait to host you again.
For more on the coronavirus, check out the following stories from our community: