This morning, I am going to tell you another story about the C.D.C. and its approach to Covid-19 behavioral guidelines. It’s a story that highlights the costs of extreme caution.
When Dr. Rochelle Walensky, the C.D.C. director, appeared before a Senate committee this month and defended the agency’s description of how often Covid-19 is transmitted outdoors, she cited a single academic study.
She was responding to a question from Senator Susan Collins of Maine, who had asked why some C.D.C. guidelines seemed inconsistent with the available data. Collins quoted from that day’s edition of this newsletter and argued that the C.D.C. was exaggerating the risk of outdoor activities by claiming that “less than 10 percent” of Covid transmission occurred outside.
Anything close to 10 percent would mean that outdoor infections were a huge problem. Yet the true share appears to be closer to 0.1 percent.
a study published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases. The study was “a meta-analysis,” she explained, which means it synthesized data from other studies. “The topline result of all studies that were included in the systematic review said less than 10 percent of cases were transmitted outdoors,” she said.
Her answer made the study sound definitive. Walensky did not mention any other studies or offer any logical argument for why she believed outdoor transmission was a significant risk. She implied that the C.D.C. was simply listening to The Journal of Infectious Diseases, which, as she noted, is a top journal.
Later that day, one of the study’s authors posted several messages on Twitter, and the story got more complicated.
‘An amazing resource’
The tweets came from Dr. Nooshin Razani, an epidemiologist at the University of California, San Francisco. In them, she emphasized that the study’s results suggested that the share of Covid occurring outdoors was “much lower than 10 percent.” The central message of the paper, Razani wrote, was the relative safety of the outdoors:
in her testimony, had used the two terms interchangeably.)
Singapore construction workers who probably transmitted it in enclosed spaces.)
The actual share occurring outdoors is “probably substantially less than 1 percent,” Razani told me. “The outdoors is an amazing resource,” she added. “What we really should be focused on is how to transition more activities to be outdoors.”
Masks for all campers
Yet the C.D.C.’s guidance continues to treat outdoor activities as a major risk — as if the truth were closer to 10 percent than 0.1 percent.
The agency advises unvaccinated people to wear masks outdoors much of the time, and many communities still impose strict guidelines on outdoor activities. The C.D.C. has also directed virtually everyone attending summer camp this year — counselor or camper, vaccinated or not — to wear a mask at almost all times. The camp guidelines use the word “universal.”
It’s true that for many people, masks are a minor nuisance. For others, though, masks bring real costs. Some children find it harder to breathe while wearing one during, say, a game of soccer or tag. Many adults and children find it more difficult to communicate. That’s especially true for people without perfect hearing and for young children, both of whom rely heavily on facial movements to understand others.
has written, is often “like talking on your phone in a zone with weak cell service.”
No free lunch
For unvaccinated adults indoors or in close conversation outdoors, the costs of a mask are vastly lower than the risks from Covid. But the trade-offs are different in most outdoor settings, and they are different for children. The Covid risks for children are similar to those from a normal flu (as these charts show).
There does not appear to be much scientific reason that campers and counselors, or most other people, should wear a mask outdoors all summer. Telling them to do so is an example of extreme caution — like staying out of the ocean to avoid sharks — that seems to have a greater cost than benefit.
The C.D.C., as I’ve written before, is an agency full of dedicated people trying their best to keep Americans healthy. Walensky, a widely admired infectious-diseases expert, is one of them. Yet more than once during this pandemic, C.D.C. officials have acted as if extreme caution has no downsides.
Everything has downsides. And it is the job of scientific experts and public-health officials to help the rest of us think clearly about the benefits and costs of our choices.
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baked feta pasta and dalgona coffee — as well as a new generation of cooking stars who are largely self-taught, preparing meals in their home kitchens.
Within 24 hours of posting his first TikTok in 2019, Eitan Bernath, now 19, had tens of thousands of followers. His upbeat and approachable food videos have since earned him over a million more, and he has three full-time employees, as well as a gig as a resident culinary expert on “The Drew Barrymore Show.”
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Read Taylor Lorenz’s full story. — Sanam Yar, a Morning writer
This article is part of Owning the Future, a series on how small businesses across the country have been effected by the pandemic.
The Covid pandemic hit California hard. It has seen well over 3.5 million cases and over 60,000 deaths. Scores of businesses have closed. But for Ana Jimenez the owner of Tacos El Jerry, a small fleet of food trucks in Santa Cruz County, it provided an opportunity to bring her business into the 21st century.
Ms. Jimenez’s four trucks began taking orders through an app and a website, delivering directly to customers, and cultivating a customer base through a new social media presence. All of that added up to a significant increase in sales.
Facebook and Instagram pages for the food trucks, a social media advertising campaign and began accepting credit card purchases. “Each truck is now serving around 300 people per day, which translates to roughly $5,000 in sales daily,” Ms. Jimenez said.
Food trucks — kitchens on wheels, essentially — are flexible by design and quickly became a substitute during the pandemic for customers who couldn’t dine indoors and coveted something different than their mainstream carryout options. That, in turn, has delivered a new client base to add on to an existing cadre of loyal followers. In a very real sense, food trucks are vehicles for equality in the post-pandemic world.
“While the pandemic has certainly hurt the majority of small businesses, it has also pushed many to be more innovative by looking for new revenue streams and ways to reach customers,” said Kimberly A. Eddleston, a professor of entrepreneurship and innovation at Northeastern University.
Like Ms. Jimenez, some businesses have “focused on ways to maintain their customer base by, for example, delivering products directly to customers,” Prof. Eddleston said. “While others have created products and services that attract new customers.”
Blue Sparrow food trucks in Pittsburgh, adding pizza, four-packs of local beer, gift cards and five-ounce bottles of housemade hot sauce.
Mr. Cypher’s main fare since he hit the streets in 2016 has been global street food. His menu carries a heavy Asian inspiration. There’s made-from-scratch kimchi on the menu daily. Dishes can include rice bowls, Vietnamese banh mi, falafel burritos, and a burger made with a ramen bun.
During the pandemic, Mr. Cypher’s business took a hit when 24 festivals and over a dozen weddings where he was booked were canceled. “I switched gears to keep things as lean as possible,” Mr. Cypher said.
He temporarily shut down a second food truck — a retrofitted 35-foot, 1956 Greyhound bus that he used for the big parties — and introduced a website to interact with his customers and an online ordering system for his smaller truck, which he usually parked at a neighborhood brewery.
“I switched the menu to focus on soups, noodles, burritos and pressed sandwiches, so that the things that we were handing our customers would make it home and still be a good experience after they opened up the bag and took it out,” he said.
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And he began to make and sell pizza one day a week at the kitchen where he used to do his prep work for the trucks before the pandemic. (The pizza, too, has an international flair: a banh mi pie, for example, made with pork or tofu, miso garlic sauce, mozzarella, pickled carrots, cucumbers, and cilantro.)
Accion Opportunity Fund, a nonprofit organization providing small-business owners with access to capital, networks and coaching. “Many food truck owners stepped forward to seize opportunity during a time of great uncertainty,” she said.
As Pittsburgh emerges from the pandemic, Mr. Cypher is adding a twist at his kitchen location. “We have licensing to offer beer on draft from our local breweries, so we’re going to have a small beer garden,” he said. “And that’s a revenue stream that we’re going to kind of lean into that we probably never would have done if not for Covid.”
In 2020, Mr. Cypher’s food trucks had $200,000 in gross sales, down about 40 percent from the previous year, he said. “But with the new offerings, more efficiency and only running one rig, we were actually able to net enough to keep the business moving forward,” he said. “This year we’re already up about 30 percent from where we were at last year at this time.”
Shiso Crispy, timing was much tricker: she opened her first truck in November 2019, just a few months before the pandemic. And yet Ms. Whaley, 35, who offers handmade gyozas, bao buns and their signature dish, dirty rice, now has two trucks because of a strategy of regularly parking in certain neighborhoods and offering discounted and free meals outside a nearby Ronald McDonald House. (She added the second truck in January.)
One challenge: “The internet here is shoddy. And cellphone service in different areas out here just doesn’t work,” she said. “During the height of the pandemic, I was consistently losing two or more transactions at my point of sale every shift.”
Clover Flex point of sale program for touchless transactions. “It has digitally transformed my business,” Ms. Whaley said.
She also signed on to an app, called Best Food Trucks, that allows customers near her to pre-order once they know her location for the day.
“The inextricably connected stories of food trucks and Covid are a perfect microcosm of the undeniable reality that women, immigrants and people of color, historically relegated to the edges of the economy, are actually the foundation upon which the next economy must be built,” said Nathalie Molina Niño, author of “Leapfrog: The New Revolution for Women Entrepreneurs.”
But the silver lining from the pandemic for some operators is more personal — including bringing families together. “I have a ton of wisdom about how to operate food trucks and cooking,” Ms. Jimenez said. “It’s the coming together of the generations that made the business stronger now and for the future.”
“For the next few months, me and my wife were up morning to night, packaging orders and making the dreaded trip to the post office every day to drop off the packages,” Mr. Schmerling said.
Another start-up, SnackMagic, entered to help.
Its roots trace back to March of last year, when a food delivery service called Stadium was on track to have its best month ever. Founded in 2018, Stadium carved out a niche for the business lunch where no one can decide among sushi, salads or burgers. Its group ordering systems allowed employees to pick whatever they wanted from a variety of restaurants. Stadium collected the food and delivered it to the office.
The pandemic, and New York City office closures, caused Stadium’s business to evaporate overnight, so a co-founder, Shaunak Amin, and other executives scrambled to find a Plan B. They eventually realized that a number of snack companies were sitting on tons of bars, cookies and drinks that grocery stores and others didn’t want because they were focusing on essential goods.
Stadium had a side business of allowing office workers to throw a snack — a bag of chips or a cookie — into their food order. Now, that would become Stadium’s primary business. Two months later, SnackMagic was allowing companies to send boxes of snacks to people working at home — a treat ahead of a Zoom meeting or simply a thank-you, Mr. Amin said.
When the company started, he said, it had 75 brands and 250 unique items. Now it’s up to 300 brands and 850 items, adding about 10 to 15 applications to get onto the platform each day.
As employees begin to trickle back into offices, the question for Lupii and other companies is: Where are people going to want to try a new snack?
Many are betting consumers will still want novelty at home. Others have said some office micro kitchens are cutting budgets, uncertain how many employees will return to the office on a regular basis.
Long before the coronavirus hit, nutrition programs that served the nation’s older adults struggled to keep up with a growing demand. Often, they could not.
In Charlotte, N.C., and nine surrounding counties, for example, the waiting list for Meals on Wheels averaged about 1,200 people. But Linda Miller, director of the Centralina Area Agency on Aging, which coordinates the program, always assumed the actual need was higher.
She knew some clients skipped meals because they couldn’t travel to a senior center for a hot lunch every weekday; some divided a single home-delivered meal to serve as both lunch and dinner.
Some never applied for help. “Just like with food stamps, which are underused,” Ms. Miller said, “people are embarrassed: ‘I worked hard all my life; I don’t want charity.’”
5.4 million older recipients.
For years, advocates for older adults have lobbied Congress for more significant federal help. Although the Older Americans Act has enjoyed bipartisan support, small annual upticks in appropriations left 5,000 local organizations constantly lagging in their ability to feed seniors.
From 2001 to 2019, funding for the Older Americans Act rose an average of 1.1 percent annually — a 22 percent increase over almost two decades, according to an analysis by the AARP Public Policy Institute. But adjusted for inflation, the funding for nutrition services actually fell 8 percent. State and local matching funds, foundation grants and private donations helped keep kitchens open and drivers delivering, but many programs still could not bridge their budget gaps.
food insecure,” meaning they had limited or uncertain access to adequate food.
And that shortfall was before the pandemic. Once programs hastily closed congregant settings last spring, a Meals on Wheels America survey found that nearly 80 percent of the programs reported that new requests for home-delivered meals had at least doubled; waiting lists grew by 26 percent.
Along with money, the Covid relief legislation gave these local programs needed flexibility. Normally, to qualify for Meals on Wheels, homebound clients must require assistance with activities of daily living. The emergency appropriations allowed administrators to serve less frail seniors who were following stay-at-home orders, and to transfer money freely from congregant centers to home delivery.
Even so, the increased caseloads, with people who had never applied before seeking meals, left some administrators facing dire decisions.
In Northern Arizona, about 800 clients were receiving home-delivered meals in February 2020. By June, that number had ballooned to 1,265, including new applicants as well as those who had previously eaten at the program’s 18 now-shuttered senior centers. Clients were receiving 14 meals each week.
By summer, despite federal relief funds, “I was out of money,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. She faced the grim task of telling 342 seniors, who had been added to the rolls for three emergency months, that she had to remove them. “People were crying on the phone,” she recalled. “I literally had a man say he was going to commit suicide.” (She reinstated him.) Even those who remained started receiving five meals a week instead of 14.
diminish loneliness and help keep seniors out of expensive nursing homes. They also may help reduce falls, although those findings were based on a small sample and did not achieve statistical significance.
Interestingly, Dr. Thomas’s research found daily meal deliveries had greater effects than weekly or twice-monthly drop-offs of frozen meals, a practice many local organizations have adopted to save money.
Frail or forgetful clients may have trouble storing, preparing and remembering to eat frozen meals. But the primary reason daily deliveries pay off, her study shows, is the regular chats with drivers.
“They build relationships with their clients,” Dr. Thomas said. “They might come back later to fix a rickety handrail. If they’re worried about a client’s health, they let the program know. The drivers are often the only people they see all day, so these relationships are very important.”
a prepandemic evaluation found.
So while program administrators relish a rare opportunity to expand their reach, they worry that if Congress doesn’t sustain this higher level of appropriations, the relief money will be spent and waiting lists will reappear.
“There’s going to be a cliff,” Ms. Beals-Luedtka said. “What’s going to happen next time? I don’t want to have to call people and say, ‘We’re done with you now.’ These are our grandparents.”
Erick Williams, the executive chef and owner of Virtue, a Southern restaurant in Chicago, said his staff of 22 employees is about half the size it was before the pandemic. “People aren’t even showing up for interviews these days,” he said.
If he can’t hire more help before business increases with the growth of outdoor dining, Mr. Williams said, “all of a sudden, you got to pay more overtime, and you’re running the risk of burning out your staff.”
The tight job market has helped hasten changes that restaurant workers pushed for during the shutdowns, including higher pay and better working conditions. Ms. Button has raised wages in accordance with recommendations made by One Fair Wage, an advocacy group for service workers, and is paying $150 bonuses to employees who refer new hires who stay on the job for more than 90 days.
The starting wage for kitchen employees at Mr. Acheson’s Atlanta restaurants is $14 to $15 per hour, he said, up from $12 before the pandemic. “People will walk down the street for a buck more — and they should,” he said.
Mike Traud, the program director of the Department of Food and Hospitality Management at Drexel University, in Philadelphia, said intense competition for talent makes this an opportune time for people to break into the restaurant business. He said this is particularly true in the Northeast, where restaurants on the coast are hiring for the tourism season.
“You have more leverage,” he said, “and there are more opportunities to get into upper-level kitchens.”
Many people, though, may be reluctant to take up or return to restaurant work, given the health risks that some studies have linked to serving customers, particularly indoors. Many restaurateurs are also concerned that resuming indoor dining too quickly could cause another spike in Covid infections. (This week, the Aspen Institute’s Food and Society Program released a set of safety guidelines it developed, in partnership with other industry groups, for diners and restaurant employees to continue following.)
ROME — On an icy evening last month, Akas Kazi, a 35-year-old originally from Bangladesh, huddled under a blanket in the portico of one of Rome’s main post offices, as Red Cross volunteers distributed hot meals of pasta and tea.
Working in a restaurant kitchen had barely paid the bills, but after the restaurant closed six months ago — yet another casualty of the pandemic — Mr. Kazi found himself living on the street. “No work, no money for rent,” he said.
Job searches had been fruitless: “There’s nothing,” he said. And even sleeping on friends’ couches was not an option. “Everyone has problems because of Covid.”
The winter has been especially hard: Since November, 12 homeless people have died on the streets of Rome, where a growing number of people have ended up because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Rome branch of the Catholic charity Caritas.
Community of St. Egidio, a Catholic charity. Capacity there fell to 10 beds from 30, after wooden partitions were erected between the cots to ensure social distancing.
Caritas estimates that some 7,700 people are on the streets. Some social workers put the number at almost twice that. For City Hall, “those are absurd numbers” and don’t reflect reality, said Veronica Mammì, the municipal councilor in charge of social services, who estimated the number of homeless at closer to 3,000.
Daniele Archibugi of the Institute for Research on Population and Social Policies, Italian Research Council, who is studying the financial impact of the pandemic in Italy, noted that many Italians work in the country’s informal economy and are not recorded, “so one of the problems is to find and reach them.”
isolation shelter, repeatedly testing its guests, who must remain there for 10 days before they are sent to other refuges.
Of the 200 men who have passed through the shelter in the past month, only one tested positive. “It’s almost miraculous,” said Mr. Farneti. (There is some anecdotal evidence that the isolated lives of homeless people make them less vulnerable to the virus.)
Rome’s Red Cross. “And the homeless suffer because bars and restaurants are closed so it’s more difficult to find food.”
association that lobbies for the rights of the homeless.
Twice a week, and more often when it’s cold, the Red Cross team brings food and blankets, as well as face masks and hand sanitizer, to those whom Emiliano Loppa, a volunteer coordinator, described as Rome’s “most isolated people.” They live downtown in makeshift camps under the bridges along the Tiber River, under porticos and even in the nooks of ancient ruins.
died on the streets, including Modesta Valenti, who became something of an icon when she died in 1983 after an ambulance refused to transport her.
Over the past year, the number of homeless people has “clearly increased,” Mr. Signifredi said. with a housing crisis adding to the problem, even though the government made evictions illegal during the state of emergency. “We have said that the pandemic unleashed the poverty of the penultimate — those who barely made it to the end of the month and now can’t make it to the 10th, so they come to us or Caritas,” he said.
St. Egidio has opened several new dormitories and also drafted an agreement with a hotel whose rooms had been empty since the pandemic began. But it’s not enough. “We’ve asked authorities to react more quickly to emergencies,” because the emergency was not going away anytime soon, he said.
“The kind of poverty has changed,” said Claudio Campani, a coordinator of the Forum for Street Volunteers, an umbrella group for some 50 associations that assist Rome’s homeless. “Now you have the so-called ‘new poor’ who go to live in their cars before ending up on the street.” And while many homeless people are immigrants, “the number of Italians has increased,” he said.
For Mr. Pavani, the year has been one long cautionary tale.
“The thread that binds us to normality is so fine that it can take very little — loss of work, a weakness, a separation — for that thread to break and for us to fall and lose our life story and roots,” he said.
Starbucks has employees at hundreds of busy locations strolling through car lines, taking orders with hand-held devices so customers can get their caffeine fix a few seconds faster. Shake Shack, which has long emphasized that quality ingredients are worth waiting a few extra minutes for, will soon feature its first drive-through window. And the vast majority of new Chipotles this year will have “Chipotlanes,” where customers can drive up to a window and pull away with preordered meals in less than a minute.
With dining room restrictions in place for much of the country during the pandemic, drive-through and pickup windows became critical ways for a variety of restaurants to remain afloat.
Now, as the dining industry looks toward a post-pandemic world, many companies are betting big that digital ordering and drive-throughs will remain integral to their success. And the basic experience of sitting in a single line of cars, speaking into a sometimes garbled intercom and pulling up to window to pay for your food before driving away is poised to be demonstrably altered for the first time in decades.
has been sued by neighboring businesses that say its long drive-through lines block their customers’ access.
For most restaurants, the solution has many parts. First, more are trying to encourage customers to use ordering apps, which improve the accuracy of orders and are often connected to loyalty programs that give them points for free food. They are also trying to figure out how to best speed consumers through the drive-through or pickup process without disrupting traffic patterns or other businesses.
Drive-through times average 4 minutes and 15 seconds, according to Bluedot, a geolocation company. Like a Daytona 500 pit crew, restaurants are always looking for ways to shave off minutes, or even seconds.
To be competitive in this race, Chipotle, whose digital orders soared from 20 percent of its sales to as high as 70 percent at the height of the pandemic, installed in many of its kitchens a second assembly line where employees put together tacos or burrito bowls for mobile and online orders exclusively.
The chain also expects that 70 percent of its restaurants that open this year will have the dedicated Chipotlanes for online orders.
“In the traditional drive-through experience, you wait in line to order, you wait in line to pay and pick up, you wait in line for your food to be prepared,” said Jack Hartung, the chief financial officer of Chipotle. “We’re trying to get our service time from when you pull up to the restaurant, pick up your food and drive off to 40 or 50 seconds.”
Others, like McDonald’s and Burger King, are adding multiple drive-through lanes, which have been a feature at some busy fast-food spots like Chick-fil-A but are becoming more commonplace. Burger King is running three-lane tests in the United States, Brazil and Spain. In the U.S. and Spain, the third lane is “express” for advance orders made through the app. In Brazil, the lane takes delivery drivers to a pickup area with food lockers or shelves.
Burger King is also looking to propel its drive-throughs into the future with a Big-Brother-like artificial intelligence system, Deep Flame.
Right now, roughly half of Burger King’s drive-throughs with digital menu boards are using Deep Flame’s technology to suggest foods that are particularly popular in the area that day. It also uses outside factors, like the weather, to highlight items like an iced coffee on a hot day.
But this year, Burger King is testing a Bluetooth technology that will be able to identify customers in Burger King’s loyalty program and show their previous orders. If a customer ordered a small Sprite and a Whopper with cheese, hold the pickles, the last three visits, Deep Flame will calculate that chances are high that the customer will want the same order again.
It’s unclear whether the technology pays off. McDonald’s is moving in a similar direction. The fast-food giant acquired the Israeli artificial intelligence firm Dynamic Yield in 2019 with an eye toward boosting sales by providing personalized digital promotions to customers.
Restaurant Brands International — the parent company of Burger King, Tim Hortons and Popeyes — hopes to have the predictive personalized systems at more than 10,000 of its restaurants’ locations across North America by mid-2022.
“We’re taking what was an outdated, old, static sales channel and bringing it to the forefront of the industry,” said Duncan Fulton, the chief corporate officer for Restaurant Brands International. Now, customers can have the “the ability to automatically reorder things and pay for the items at the board, which, ultimately, speeds up the window time, allowing you to collect your food and go on your way.”
A chair sits in the middle of Holiday Market, a specialty grocer near Detroit, and if customers are lucky, they’ll find Tom Violante Sr. sitting in it. The 91-year-old founder still comes to work most days — and he knows where everything is in its 60,000 square feet.
“He asks everyone if they found what they wanted,” said his son, Tom Violante Jr., who operates the store with his sister and brother-in-law. “If they haven’t, he’ll tell them which aisle it is in, how many steps it takes to get there, and where it’s located, knee, head or belly high.”
That’s the type of customer service the store, in Royal Oak, Mich., is known for. So, when Tom Violante Jr. began considering offering online grocery shopping, he wanted to provide that same level of care. He didn’t expect the service to be a huge revenue generator, but he saw the future coming, as online brands such as Chewy and Winc wooed his customers away. In 2019, he assembled a team to build an online platform that could handle the store’s 60,000 items.
Big e-commerce businesses also absorbed nearly 60 percent of all warehouse space available last year, according to real estate analysts at CoStar Group.
“The big just got bigger,” said Andrew Lipsman, principal analyst with eMarketer.
For small businesses, he said, the benefit was wildly uneven. There were winner sectors, such as grocery, health and fitness, and direct-to-consumer brands, but apparel boutiques and other specialty retailers — especially those without existing e-commerce platforms — struggled.
“The pandemic accelerated the growth of online commerce,” said Loren Padelford, vice president of Shopify, the e-commerce platform that predominantly serves independent retailers. “It woke a lot of people up to the idea that if you have to close your physical door, you need to have a digital door.”
been using Instagram, TikTok and Clubhouse to connect directly with shoppers. She has developed a following on those platforms, she said, because she doesn’t post just about the products. She posts about what matters to her: the struggles of building a business, her upbringing, even confusion about what she is “supposed to look like” as the owner of a beauty brand.
“This is so different from the last version of the brand,” Ms. Roy said. “It’s less transactional, more authentic to who I am. It has really contributed to our growth.”
In 2020, the company recorded $1 million in sales, Ms. Roy said. This year, she anticipates $6 million.
the Peacock Room, Frida and Yama. “E-commerce websites are not a magical solution for saving small retail,” she said.
For one, Ms. Lutz couldn’t find a good way to manage inventory across two sales channels. She carries a number of unique and specialty items, and she worried than an online customer could buy an item just as someone picked it up off a store shelf. And stocking separate inventories for online and in-store was too expensive. She also didn’t want to use her retail spaces as shipping and logistics centers when the cost of renting them is so much higher than warehouse space.
In the end, she realized being a community-centered business was the most important thing. “I might be less efficient, but I have a more special and unique business and that’s what draws people to our store,” Ms. Lutz said.
Live Cycle Delight fitness studio in Detroit, is putting on her own show. She wishes she could just point a camera at one of her yoga or spinning instructors and start running Instagram Live, but she knows she needs high production values if she wants her customers to maintain their memberships. So Ms. Daniels built a mini production studio inside her spin room, investing thousands in microphones, lights and a film crew to produce on-demand video classes.
But no matter how much she invests in her digital platform, it’s hard to go up against Peloton, which is well capitalized and has entire teams producing its digital classes. Last fiscal year, that company saw its sales surge 100 percent even as Live Cycle Delight’s revenue fell 80 percent.
“Our competition changed,” Ms. Daniels said. “We’re not just competing with the gym down the street. Titans like Peloton and SoulCycle, they are true beneficiaries of this pandemic. We are working twice as hard to compete with those titans and with celebrity trainers.”
About 30 customers left Live Cycle Delight for Peloton, Ms. Daniels said, but she found support in other ways. With the movement to support Black-owned businesses, people donated to her, and there was healthy demand for the studio’s branded merchandise, such as Pilates balls, T-shirts and booty bands, the stretchy bands that add resistance to a workout. These goods have proved so popular that Ms. Daniels struggles to keep them in stock on her website.
Between the products, outdoor classes in the summer and memberships, she has been able to keep the three-year-old business open. The shift to e-commerce hasn’t been perfect, she said, but it’s been worth it. She reminds herself why she started the studio: to make fitness more accessible and inclusive.
“Peloton is just one kind of experience,” she said. “We’re still here providing clients with an option to join us on the quest of better.”