The Ghosts of Brooks Brothers

ENFIELD, Conn. — The bones of Brooks Brothers stores are scattered across 100,000 square feet here in a warehouse near the Massachusetts border, mixed in with a sea of cardboard boxes and junk.

There are legions of mannequins, empty circular tables that once displayed neckties, posters of horseback-riding gentlemen from a bygone era. There is a whole section of Christmas trees and countless gold-painted ornaments of sheep suspended by ribbon — a Brooks Brothers symbol since 1850 known as the Golden Fleece. Blank order forms for tailors are strewn about. A neon sign that apparently still works. There is no apparel, but there are rows of heavy sewing machines that most likely came from one of the brand’s recently shuttered factories. And in the bathroom, a welcome carpet with Brooks Brothers written in cursive sits next to a toilet.

The whole mass was abandoned here in the fallout of Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing and sale last year, the scraps of a retailer that made nearly $1 billion in sales in 2019. Ever since, the couple that owns the warehouse, Chip and Rosanna LaBonte, has been scrambling to figure out how to get rid of it all. Junk removal companies have told them it will cost at least $240,000 to clear the space, which Brooks Brothers had rented through November. In order to pay the bill, the LaBontes are going to have to sell their home.

retail bankruptcies, which cascaded during the pandemic and affected everyone from factory workers to executives. Smaller vendors and landlords have often been left holding the short end of the stick during lengthy byzantine bankruptcy proceedings, particularly with limits on what they can spend on legal bills compared with larger corporations. And once bankrupt brands are sold, people like the LaBontes are typically left in the dust.

corporate bankruptcies in the United States last year, which had the highest number of filings in a decade, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

The LaBontes, who are in their 60s, have been working with a liquidator to sell what they can of the Brooks Brothers detritus, and are about to list their home in Sherborn, Mass. While they have filed a claim in bankruptcy court, they are anticipating receiving less than 5 percent of what they are owed, if that — and confessed that the proceedings are hopelessly confusing. Most of all, they are angry and incredulous about the situation, especially as Brooks Brothers continues to operate under wealthy new owners.

entire portions of their closets. J. Crew and the owners of Ann Taylor and Men’s Wearhouse also filed for bankruptcy, while sales nose-dived at chains like Banana Republic. Temporary store closures added to the distress, along with the cancellations of special occasions like proms, graduations, weddings and other events.

All that led up to Brooks Brothers’ bankruptcy filing in July, one of the most significant retail collapses of 2020. Brooks Brothers had dressed all but four U.S. presidents at the time of its filing, and prided itself on its American factories, which were also forced to close.

the SPARC Group, including Lucky Brand denim and Forever 21, leveraging the combination of Authentic Brands’ expertise in licensing famous brand names in various lucrative and creative (and some say equity-destructive) ways and Simon’s real estate portfolio.

At the time of the Brooks Brothers purchase, SPARC committed to keep operating at least 125 Brooks Brothers retail locations, compared with 424 retail and outlet stores globally before the pandemic.

Under the new owners, Brooks Brothers switched to wire transfers instead of checks, but kept paying rent on the warehouse through November, sending even more goods there as it closed dozens of stores and shuttered its three American factories, Mr. and Ms. LaBonte said. But after Thanksgiving, it sent a letter to the couple rejecting the lease as well as the contents of the warehouse. According to a person with knowledge of the deal, the warehouse and its contents had not been part of SPARC’s purchase of Brooks Brothers. As a result, said Mr. Van Horn said, the new owner most likely has no legal responsibility to the LaBontes.

A representative for SPARC stopped returning requests for comment.

“They used it for all of their store fixtures, so tables, props, fishing poles, canoes, everything you would see that would go in and out of a store to decorate it,” Mr. LaBonte said. “There’s probably 20,000 square feet of Christmas trees — everything except the actual merchandise.”

As to who would want it now: Customers have included local clothing makers looking for mannequins and a set designer from an upcoming HBO series called “The Gilded Age.” Last Monday, an older couple wandered through the space, looking at the Christmas decorations and empty gift boxes. Habitat for Humanity has been looking at the haul for several days and is taking some of the goods. Still, Mr. LaBonte estimated that somewhere around 30 percent of the leftovers have been sold.

The liquidator paid the LaBontes approximately $20,000 to sell what they can through mid-April or so. The couple will not receive a cut, and will deal with what’s left. When junk removal specialists assessed the cost of clearing the space in December, one quote was around $243,000 while the other was closer to $290,000.

“We’re just another Covid casualty to them, we get that,” Ms. LaBonte said of Brooks Brothers. “But I also don’t think they realized how much stuff was there.”

The junk removal firms, which confirmed the prices with The New York Times, said that it was expensive to remove the volume of goods. The costs included labor, multiple trips to dumps, donation and recycling centers, and the use of specialized equipment such as a forklift, large dumpsters and an 18-foot box truck.

“I’ve been doing this for seven years and I’ve never seen anything like this before,” said Rick McDonald Jr., the owner of EastSide Junk, which provided the $243,000 quote to the couple. “They left an astronomical amount of stuff.”

When Authentic Brands, the licensing firm, announced the purchase of Brooks Brothers out of bankruptcy last year, Jamie Salter, the company’s chief executive, spoke about the retailer’s legacy and its “incredible history.”

The LaBontes, confronting a warehouse full of some of that history, were unhappy to see those comments.

They put out a statement recently asking: “What kind of heritage can they claim when they operate like low-rent, fly-by-night bullies?”

Contact Sapna Maheshwari at sapna@nytimes.com or Vanessa Friedman at vanessa.friedman@nytimes.com.

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In the Latin Quarter, Paris’s Intellectual Heartbeat Grows Fainter

PARIS — With their bright yellow awnings and sagging iron shelves, the Gibert Jeune bookstores, which sell cheap secondhand books, have been a fixture of the Latin Quarter in Paris for over a century, a mainstay of the neighborhood’s shabby-chic intellectual life and beloved by tourists too.

“So old and unchangeable,” said Anny Louchart, 74, a longtime customer who was recently rummaging through boxes of paperbacks at one of the stores, her voice filled with nostalgia.

But a sales assistant told Ms. Louchart that four of the store’s seven outposts in the area, including the one she stood in, would soon close, hard hit by a drop in sales because of the pandemic.

robbing their city of its soul has not spared the Latin Quarter, where fashion stores and fast-food restaurants have taken over many of the spaces once occupied by ancient cafes, bookstores and movie theaters. The neighborhood’s appeal has driven up rents, causing a once-vibrant student life to crumble.

Figures from the urban planning agency Apur show that 42 percent of the Latin Quarter’s bookstores have vanished in the past 20 years, and Paris’s open-air booksellers are also fighting for survival.

But the news of the closings of the Gibert Jeune bookstores — an institution that seemed immortal to many people — has sounded an unusual alarm. It strikes at the very heart of the neighborhood’s identity: access to culture at an affordable price.

Three Gibert Jeune stores just closed, and the fourth was expected to follow suit in the next few days.

student-led “May 1968” protests that took place there.

Ernest Hemingway wrote that Paris and its Latin Quarter allowed “a way of living well and working, no matter how poor you were.”

Michel Carmona, a historian and geographer specializing in Paris, said that the cultural erosion of the Latin Quarter started in the 1980s and was intertwined with the gradual decline of student life. “Cheap bookstores, cafes and movie theaters are primarily for students,” he said.

He added that residents of the neighborhood were increasingly “transit people” — wealthy foreigners eager to have a pied-à-terre or tourists renting Airbnb apartments.

At the heart of this dynamic lies a paradox: Gentrification uproots the same bohemian charm that draws people to the Latin Quarter.

Latin Quarter Committee that lobbies the authorities on defending the neighborhood’s cultural identity.

In an attempt to help, the Paris authorities said they had acquired the premises of some struggling bookstores and offered them rents slightly below the market rate.

In a statement, the leadership of the Gibert Jeune chain said that “the Covid crisis, with the emptying of the Latin Quarter of Paris,” had been the final straw.

apocalyptic” since the start of the pandemic. The gloom that has settled over Paris has been perhaps most conspicuous in the Latin Quarter, whose very heart — the cafes, restaurants, theaters and museums — stopped beating amid government lockdown restrictions to fight coronavirus infections.

The temporary shutdown of these cultural pillars has resonated among local residents as a dress rehearsal for the near future. Cafes and theaters have not reopened since the fall, when a second wave of infections was taking hold in France, and many fear that some will have gone out of business by the time restrictions are lifted.

On the Rue Champollion, a cobbled, narrow street close to the Sorbonne, the lines of film buffs that once stretched out on the sidewalks in the middle of the day are nowhere to be found today. The three art-house movie theaters there were closed for the lockdown

One of the theaters, Le Champo, has been displaying extracts from its guest book — “the memory box,” as it called them — behind its closed windows. A 2018 message left by the prolific screenwriter Jean-Claude Carrière, who died last month, read: “For Le Champo! So many years later … and how many more years to come?”

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Brazil Overtakes U.S. in Daily Covid-19 Deaths

SÃO PAULO—Brazil has overtaken the U.S. as the country with the most daily Covid-19 cases and deaths in the world, as an aggressive strain of the disease from the Amazon leaves Latin America’s biggest nation scrambling for space in hospitals and cemeteries.

Brazil’s daily Covid-19 death toll surged to 1,972 on Tuesday, its highest yet during the pandemic. The U.S. death toll on Tuesday was 1,947.

Brazil’s seven-day average daily death toll has risen to 1,573 while the rate in the U.S. is plunging—down to 1,566 a day—amid fewer cases and more vaccination, according to Our World in Data at Oxford University. The U.S. hit a peak of just over 3,400 daily deaths in January.

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As many countries put the worst of the pandemic behind them, Brazil is facing one of its worst humanitarian crises yet as deaths and infections surge, registering in the past week almost 1,000 new cases every 20 minutes—more than 70,000 a day.

Public health specialists lay part of the blame on the rapid spread of the P.1 strain from the Amazonian city of Manaus, which studies have shown to be more contagious and better able to reinfect people than previous versions of the disease. Deaths have also surged as Brazil’s health system has struggled to cope, meaning patients who could have been saved were left to die in chaotic hospital corridors or—in the worst cases—suffocated to death for lack of oxygen.

Confirmed Covid-19 deaths, seven-day rolling average

Early November: Aggressive P.1 strain is born in the Amazonian city of Manaus, according to researchers’ estimates

Jan. 17: Brazil begins its vaccination campaign with a limited supply of shots

Feb. 13: Local transmission of P.1 confirmed in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, as strain spreads fast

March 1: ICU Covid-19 wards reach full capacity or near-full capacity in most Brazilian states

March

2020

Early November: Aggressive P.1 strain is born in the Amazonian city of Manaus, according to researchers’ estimates

Jan. 17: Brazil begins its vaccination campaign with a limited supply of shots

Feb. 13: Local transmission of P.1 confirmed in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, as strain spreads fast

March 1: ICU Covid-19 wards reach full capacity or near-full capacity in most Brazilian states

March

2020

Early November: Aggressive P.1 strain is born in the Amazonian city of Manaus, according to researchers’ estimates

Jan. 17: Brazil begins its vaccination campaign with a limited supply of shots

Feb. 13: Local transmission of P.1 confirmed in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, as strain spreads fast

March 1: ICU Covid-19 wards reach full capacity or near-full capacity in most Brazilian states

March

2020

Early November: Aggressive P.1. strain is born in the Amazonian city of Manaus, according to researchers’ estimates

Jan. 17: Brazil begins its vaccination campaign with a limited supply of shots

Feb. 13: Local transmission of P.1. confirmed in Brazil’s biggest city, São Paulo, as strain spreads fast

March 1: ICU Covid-19 wards reach full capacity or near-full capacity in most Brazilian states

March

2020

March

2021

Brazil is now home to hundreds of new Covid-19 variants, researchers said, warning that other more dangerous versions could emerge the longer the disease is left to fester and mutate, threatening to undermine the progress of other countries against the pandemic.

“It seems like a nightmare,” said Mohamed Parrini, chief executive of the Moinhos de Vento Hospital in the southern city of Porto Alegre, who has been racing to convert other wards into makeshift ICUs. “The saddest thing is when you start to see the people around you also getting intubated—people’s husbands, the spouses and uncles of employees.”

Like many doctors across the country, Mr. Parrini said he was seeing more younger patients—many in their 30s and 40s—than during Brazil’s first wave of cases in the middle of last year. Researchers are still trying to understand why.

Covid-19 has killed more than 260,000 people in Brazil, including more than 10,000 in the past week. That puts the country only behind the U.S., which has more than 525,000 deaths.

Brazil’s vaccination campaign has proceeded slowly. A health worker administered a vaccine on Tuesday to a patient in Manaus, Brazil.

Photo: Sandro Pereira/Zuma Press

Brazil has inoculated only about 4% of its population. That means cases and deaths are likely to remain higher in Brazil for the coming months, epidemiologists say.

The U.S., Brazil and India have led in the total number of daily deaths for every month of the pandemic but the first few, when the virus began its deadly march from China to South Korea and Europe.

Public hospitals in the capital Brasília and across more than 20 of Brazil’s 26 states have now reached full capacity or are close to running out of beds in their ICU wards. Hospitals in Brasília, the Amazon and the south have resorted to renting refrigerated shipping containers to store corpses after their on-site morgues filled up. Meanwhile, cemeteries in some cities such as Campo Grande in the center-west have dug up their parking lots to make more room for graves.

As a proportion of its population of 213 million people, Brazil has suffered fewer deaths so far than the U.S., as well as Mexico, Peru and many European nations. But the speed of Brazil’s recent wave of fatalities—and the fact it runs contrary to the global trend—has prompted deep concern over the country’s fate as well as the potential of the P.1 strain to wreak similar havoc across the region.

A mourner at the coffin of a relative who died of Covid-19 on Tuesday in São Paulo.

Photo: carla carniel/Reuters

A recent study showed P.1 to be 1.4 to 2.2 times more contagious than versions of the virus previously found in Brazil, and 25% to 61% more capable of reinfecting people.

Researchers believe P.1 first emerged in Manaus in early November and by January, the new strain was already responsible for 85% of new Covid-19 infections in the city.

Chaos soon followed. After scores of patients suffocated to death in Manaus in January following a citywide shortage of oxygen, a convoy of trucks from Venezuela made the 26-hour drive south through the rainforest to deliver supplies. Prosecutors have also been investigating reports last month that intubated patients in the region were tied to their beds following a shortage of sedatives.

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While the infection rate and daily death toll have shown signs of falling in Amazonas state over recent weeks, other states further south are facing their darkest days yet as P.1 continues to spread. São Paulo, Brazil’s biggest and wealthiest city, has called on volunteer doctors to help relieve exhausted medical staff as ICU occupancy rates reach 80% for the first time.

Brazil began its vaccination campaign on Jan. 17, but has proceeded slowly. There have been mixed signs over how it and other Covid-19 vaccines will work against P.1. The Butantan Institute and Fiocruz, Brazilian research centers that are producing the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine and the Oxford- AstraZeneca shot respectively, said studies show both are effective against P.1.

A laboratory study this week showed that Pfizer Inc.’s vaccine was able to neutralize P.1. However, another small study showed this month that plasma from people vaccinated five months ago with CoronaVac, Brazil’s principal vaccine, “failed to efficiently neutralize” the strain.

As highly transmissible coronavirus variants sweep across the world, scientists are racing to understand why these new versions of the virus are spreading faster, and what this could mean for vaccine efforts. New research says the key may be the spike protein, which gives the coronavirus its unmistakable shape. Illustration: Nick Collingwood/WSJ

Write to Samantha Pearson at samantha.pearson@wsj.com and Luciana Magalhaes at Luciana.Magalhaes@wsj.com

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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Travel Workers Despair a Year Lost to Covid-19

In 2020, governments across the world closed borders, airlines grounded flights, hotels shuttered and cruises were canceled or postponed.

The measures imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus decimated the livelihoods of millions of travel and hospitality workers, whose jobs depend on tourism. Efforts by governments to mitigate the socio-economic impact of the pandemic and stimulate the recovery of the travel industry have fallen short, especially in developing countries where many workers have received little or no support.

In the United States alone, more than four million travel jobs were lost in 2020, according to the U.S. Travel Association. Across the globe, between 100 to 120 million more direct tourism jobs are gone or at risk, the World Tourism Organization has warned.

The cruise and aviation sectors were hit particularly hard. After cruise ships were grounded last March, every one percent of cruisers lost resulted in a reduction of 9,100 industry-related jobs, the Cruise Lines International Association, the industry’s trade group, found. Each day of the suspension caused direct and indirect industry losses of 2,500 jobs. The downturn in air traffic last year resulted in a loss of around 4.8 million direct aviation jobs, a 43 percent drop from pre-pandemic levels, the Geneva-based Air Transport Action group said.

Six travel workers, from a cruise-ship worker in Manila to a tour bus driver in East Jerusalem, spoke with us about the challenges they and their families have faced over the past 12 months without work. In their own words, they shared how the prolonged shutdown and its uncertainty upended their lives. While they all feel they have survived the worst of the pandemic, many of them have accumulated significant debt and worry about their future job prospects. Most of them feel optimistic that travel will pick up soon following the global inoculation drive, but are concerned that it could take years for the industry to recover to pre-pandemic levels.

These interviews were edited and condensed for clarity.

the Philippines

After nearly 10 years working as a wine steward for Norwegian Cruise Line, I was repatriated to the Philippines last April, unsure when the coronavirus would be brought under control and I would be called back to work.

When we were still on board the cruise ship, they gave us severance pay, but when we came home, it suddenly stopped. I have been a seafarer for almost 24 years, and this is the first time I have not received any money for nearly one year. It is very, very challenging.

In my job, I was responsible for sales and inventory of beverages and assisting passengers to pick out wines to accompany their meals. I would earn around $2,000 a month, including tips, and sent my entire salary home to support my wife and four children, who are 26, 23, 16 and 12.

We were quite comfortable. We even had savings and used the money to start construction on a new home. But now we cannot even afford our electricity bills and we are drowning in debt.

We had to move out of our home in Manila last year because we could no longer afford the rent. Now we are living in the house we bought, which is still under construction. I had to buy cement to put it on the floor so that my children wouldn’t have to sleep on the mud and I put up tarp so that we would have a roof over our kitchen.

We have been resourceful, but I don’t know how much longer we can live like this. We are behind on our mortgage payments and we have almost $5,000 in debt. I looked for work but there is nothing. My daughter works in a fast-food chain and my son does courier work, but that is only enough for our meals.

I cannot sleep at night worrying about the next day when the sun comes up. Will someone call to ask for the money? Will they come and take the house? How can I give anyone an honest answer when I don’t know how long before I can work again?

Jerusalem

I used to spend most of my time crisscrossing Israel and the occupied West Bank, transporting tourists from around the world to centuries-old holy sites, open-air markets and seaside hotels.

But after the pandemic emerged in Israel and the occupied West Bank in early 2020, I lost my job. I am still without work and have racked up a significant amount of debt.

The pandemic has caused tremendous anxiety for me. It’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel because nobody can tell us when tourism will finally come back. Every time, we hear another estimate — one day they say it will return in the summer and the next day they say it will return in the fall.

I have managed to put food on the table for my wife and my son through monthly $1,160 welfare checks from the Israeli government and some support from my former employer, but I am still facing enormous financial challenges. My bank account is in deficit, my rent is in arrears by nine months, and I have a growing number of unpaid bills piling up.

For the past decade, I worked for a variety of tour bus companies, which paid me about $1,530 per month. I would work almost every day of the month during peak tourism seasons.

I have tried to find new employment but was only offered a job as a truck driver. Earlier this month, I sold my car for $3,050 to buy myself some breathing room.

My situation is better than the people I know in the West Bank, but it’s still very difficult because I’m always thinking about how I can make ends meet.

Despite the challenges, I still have hope I will eventually be able to return to my old job.

If I weren’t optimistic, I wouldn’t know what to do. If God wills, I’ll be back in the driver’s seat soon.

I was working as a housekeeper at two resorts in March when the borders shut down and immediately our managers sent us home. Since then, I have had no income or assistance and it is impossible to find any work.

The hotels that have opened in Jamaica are all operating at reduced capacity, so they are not employing as many people as they used to. In season, I would make around $250 a month cleaning 30 rooms a day. Now, housekeepers are cleaning five to 10 rooms at most and are making less money.

My eldest son is taking care of our family now. God bless him, he has managed to make some money selling electronic parts online. My husband passed away many years ago and my daughter is only 15 so we have a small family and manage to get by, but we desperately need the money I used to make.

We had to leave our two-bedroom home because we could not afford the rent. For months now we have been living in a small room in our friend’s house. We sleep on the floor on mattresses and have a small seating area where we watch television together. I do all the cooking and cleaning for both our families, which has been demanding, but it is all I can do in return for a roof over our heads.

I want so much more for my children. I want them to finish university and get good, respected jobs. They deserve so much more than this and it breaks my heart that I cannot do more for them in this moment.

The hardest part is not knowing when I will be able to work again and provide for my family. It could be a very long time before the hotels are full again and it is very competitive to get other housekeeping work, especially in private residences.

I went for a few trials last June when things opened up, but it was backbreaking work with too much attitude from the residence owners. In the resorts there is a daily routine that I am used to, and when I finish my work I go home without a headache.

Maybe I didn’t appreciate my work so much then, but I would do anything to go back there now. As soon as I am given the vaccination I will go from hotel to hotel until one of them takes me in.

Uganda

My last safari was in February last year. We almost did not finish the tour because our European clients had to rush back home before their countries went into lockdown.

I was working every day — around 15 days as a guide on the field and 15 days doing logistics in Kampala. When everything suddenly stopped, I lost all my income and unfortunately, the government did not give us any help. We were on our own.

It has been a very very hard time for safari guides. Most of us have had to sell our property, land or vehicles just to survive. It is only by God’s grace that some of us are still surviving after all this time.

I got a small job washing cars. As a safari guide, I made around $800 a month, and now I make $100. I have a wife and three children aged 18, 12 and 8, and right now our main target is to be able to eat food. If we get food for a day, then we thank God.

We were renting a house with three bedrooms, one sitting room, and a kitchen for about $150 per month, but around May I had to move my family to a smaller house, which is around $75 per month. Now we have two bedrooms, a living room and the kitchen is outside.

My biggest problem now is sending the kids back to school. They go to a private school and my son is in his final year so I cannot pull him out. I am fighting tooth and nail so that he can finish and go to university. I sold two small pieces of land and borrowed some money, which I will have to pay back in the near future.

There are days where I feel running mad. Where I can’t think anymore, but then I think of people who are in a worse position than me and I feel grateful. I always have hope that tomorrow will be a better day.

If the vaccine has success, I have hope that a few tourists will start traveling and maybe we can get a few safaris in June or July. It will not be the same, but it is something and that is where our hope lies.

Britain

The first blow to my career came before the pandemic, in September 2019, when the Thomas Cook group collapsed. That was my first commercial pilot role and I had worked for them for 11 years before I lost my job.

Thankfully, the industry was quite buoyant at that time and I managed to get a job in January last year with a small company called Titan Airways that specializes in V.I.P. charter work and high-end travel.

Then the pandemic hit in March. They realized there was no money coming in for the foreseeable future, so they let me go. In the aviation industry, it is common for the last one to join to be the first one to leave.

I couldn’t believe it. I have a partner, two small children and a mortgage. I knew I wasn’t going to get another flying job with the way the travel industry was, so I had to look for something that would bring in any sort of income. In May, I managed to get a job as a delivery driver for Ocado, the U.K. online supermarket.

I took an 80 percent pay cut from my pilot job. We had to go through our finances and shave off everything that wasn’t a necessity like private health care, subscriptions, gym memberships. It has been a really trying time to live on one salary, which is effectively minimum wage. The numbers don’t always match up on a monthly basis in terms of what comes in and what goes out, even after selling my car and taking other measures to save money.

I’ve also started a specialty coffee company called Altitude Coffee London. It’s heavily themed in aviation, which is obviously my background. I built it myself with my dad, who had a commercial property that we turned it into a production factory for roasting specialty grade coffee, which we sell to consumers online.

I have a few people come in and help, but it’s basically just me roasting the coffee, packing it up and getting it out to customers when I’m not delivering for Ocado. The reception so far has been really positive, but obviously we have some way to go to establish ourselves in the market, which is highly competitive.

I’ll definitely go back to flying when jobs become available, but I think it will be a while for people like me who have been made redundant. We’re probably looking at 2022 or 2023. Flying is something that is ingrained in you forever and there’s not really any other experience you can liken it to. Everyday going to work and seeing a blue sky and beautiful scenery and chatting away to someone who is as passionate about the job as you are for eight to 10 hours.

Italy

My wife, Erika Cornali, and I have both been full-time tour guides in Venice for 11 years, and like 90 percent of tour guides in Italy, we are self employed. Until the pandemic, the job was very rewarding and allowed us to settle down. We bought a house that we love, and thankfully we do not have to pay a mortgage anymore.

Venice has a deep history in tourism. It has been in the Grand Tour since the 1600s and 1700s. Our association of tour guides in Venice dates back to the end of the 1970s. So, for a city that is so deeply involved in the tourism sector, this pandemic has been a big shock and it’s still a dramatic situation.

I keep an Excel spreadsheet of my services and when I look at 2019, I see that I gave 290 tours all year round. In 2020, I gave just 55.

We are lucky because we have some savings, so I am not worried about tomorrow, but I am worried about what happens after tomorrow. I know we can manage until the end of this year with this crisis, but we have two children, and we need to think about their future.

It seems that things will come back slowly, which is worrying because there will not be as much work to go around. We are used to millions of tourists each year, thousands on a daily basis, but now you see very little activity, and tour guides find themselves in a desperate situation some of them going to the train station holding up signs.

It has also been tough on the mental condition. If you are used to working everyday of your life, sometimes twice or three jobs per day, and then suddenly you find yourself with nothing to do. You need something for your mind, not only for your pocket.

I know life will go back to what it was eventually, just as it did after the London and Paris terrorist attacks, but how long will this crisis last we just don’t know. I worry for Venice, because our local population is already in decline and with no economic activity, more people will be forced to leave.

Adam Rasgon contributed reporting from Jerusalem.

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When You’re a Small Business, E-Commerce Is Tougher Than It Looks

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.”

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Will EVs Create A Transportation Class Divide?

The vast majority of electric vehicle owners don’t want to go back to fossil fuel. In fact, a survey by the UK’s Zap-Map at the end of 2020 showed that just 1% said they missed their internal combustion vehicles. It’s easy to assume from statistics like this that battery electric vehicles are the perfect choice for everyone. But they could be another example of how some can afford to take advantage of the benefits of new technology while others will find it much more difficult and get left behind.

Although EVs have seen huge growth in the last year, with 40% more of them on UK roads at the end of 2020 than there were at the beginning, the people buying them are primarily the more financially comfortable early adopters. An EV is still £5-£10,000 ($7-14,000 ) more than an equivalent fossil fuel car. There are also much fewer of them on the used market, with only a small number of cars available in the UK, for example, for less than £5,000 ($7,000). This already puts EVs out of the reach of those who can only ever afford a cheap used car.

It’s a problem that will diminish with time, as the increased number of cars bought new in the last year or so enter the used market. But it will probably be at least another 5 years before we see lots of decent EVs within the price bracket many people can afford. Right now, the cheapest used market is mostly old Nissan Leafs with 24kWh batteries that probably only deliver 50-80 miles of range, which is a far cry from the 200+ miles available from an increasing number of the latest EVs. The latest base version of the Tesla Model 3 now offers 278 miles, and even the latest Nissan Leaf provides 239 miles. But these won’t be available second-hand in numbers for at least three years.

Even more telling, however, is that further research has shown how around two thirds of current EV owners claim they wouldn’t have gone electric if they didn’t have home charging. It is perfectly possible to own an EV without private parking and charging, but it is more complicated and loses one of the most enjoyable benefits of EV ownership. Being able to charge at home and set off on a journey with a full battery whenever you want makes EVs more convenient than any fossil fuel vehicle. If the vast majority of your journeys are within the range of your EV, you will almost never need a public charger, so one of the usual criticisms from the EV hater crowd – that you can’t refuel in 5 minutes – is irrelevant.

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Unfortunately, there’s a significant number of people in most countries who don’t have access to home charging and never will. In the UK, only 38% of households have access to private parking where charging can be installed. The figure is much higher in the US at 63%, but that still leaves a significant proportion without. The desire to install home charging will also vary with levels of home ownership, which differs a lot across Europe, for example. In Romania, 95.8% of people owned their own homes in 2019, but in Germany it was just 51.1%. You won’t want to spend money on installing home EV charging if you’re only renting and might move on soon.

Not only are those without home charging going to be more reluctant to get EVs in the first place, they also can’t enjoy their killer benefit of leaving home with a full charge, or the cheap driving it entails. Home electricity supplies can be half the price per kWh of public chargers, or even less, and there are tariffs around that make this even cheaper if you charge at night. Most countries provide other financial benefits from EV ownership, too, such as cheap or zero vehicle tax, cheaper residents’ parking, and cheaper or zero toll charges for city use. Servicing costs less as well and can have longer intervals – often two years instead of one.

If you have the financial means and the possibility of home charging, EVs are already a no brainer. Once you’ve got past the higher initial purchase price, the running costs will be peanuts, and unless you make a long journey beyond the range of the vehicle, you will never need to worry about the lack of public charging infrastructure. You just need to remember to plug the car in occasionally overnight to keep it topped up.

For those who can’t afford an EV yet, however, and don’t have home charging, it’s a different story. There will still be plenty of cheap-to-buy second-hand fossil fuel cars available for at least the next decade, but they will be increasingly expensive to run compared to EVs. The fuel prices will continually go up, servicing is more expensive, and there will be more penalties based on levels of pollution, similar to the London Ultra-Low Emission Zone, which is expanding to a huge area of the city later in 2021 and entails a charge of £12.50 ($17) every time you drive. It may even be increasingly hard to refuel an internal combustion engine, as fuel stops decline in numbers. The Californian city of North Bay just banned the building of new gas stations, and as EVs gain in popularity this will hasten the closure rate.

The end result could be richer people who own homes with home charging enjoying the benefits that EVs offer, while the less well-off are relegated to an increasingly dilapidated fleet of used internal combustion engine cars that cost more to keep on the road every year. This is why government input will be so important over the next decade. This won’t necessarily mean lots of financial expenditure, but it will entail other incentives, such as relaxing the planning permission for street chargers or for people living in terraced houses to have parking in front of their homes with charging. Otherwise, many will get left behind by the EV revolution, which will limit how far the environmental benefits can reach alongside lots of other negative side effects on society.

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Where Renting Pays: In These Markets, Owning Takes a While to Pencil Out

The pressure to buy a house can be intense, particularly in markets where home values are skyrocketing. People appear to be making a mint on real estate, and renting – instead of buying your own home – can sometimes feel like standing still.

But that’s not necessarily the case.

It takes more than two years before buying the typical U.S. home makes more financial sense than renting it, when averaging the costs of home buying and renting nationwide, according to Zillow’s Breakeven Horizon. It takes even longer in many areas with sky-high home values.

In the San Jose, CA metro area, in the heart of Silicon Valley – among the nation’s priciest home markets – you’d have to spend 5.1 years in a house for buying to make more sense than renting. San Francisco has the second-highest breakeven horizon, at 4.9 years, followed by Los Angeles with 4.7 years. The markets of Washington, D.C. and San Diego, both at 4.5 years, round out the list of the five large markets with the longest breakeven horizon.

Of course, renting in these areas isn’t exactly a bargain: In the San Jose metro, the median rent is $3,460 a month. San Francisco isn’t far behind, at $3,354 a month.

Still, buying a home in those areas requires enormous upfront costs in the form of a down payment, fees and closing expenses, and they take time to recoup. The 20-percent down payment alone on a home in San Jose or San Francisco, where median home values are $997,600 and $848,400, respectively, easily tops $150,000.

It’s important to remember that these numbers are just guidelines. Buying a house is an individual decision, with broad personal and financial implications – and no small amount of emotion. Knowing how long, even at the median, it takes for buying to become a financially wiser move than renting can remove one piece of guesswork.

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Source: zillow.com

Rental Affordability Is Worst in Minority Communities

Housing has become less affordable for all renters since 2011 as rent appreciation greatly outpaced income growth. But for renters living in predominately black or Hispanic neighborhoods, the situation is decidedly worse.

New data shows that, on average, residents of predominantly white neighborhoods spend 30.7 percent of their income on rent, in line with the generally accepted standard of 30 percent. Renters living in predominately black neighborhoods spend 43.7 percent of their income on rent, and renters in largely Hispanic communities spend 48.1 percent.

For renters in minority communities, devoting such a large share of income to rent limits their ability to save for a down payment, which would allow them to transition their costly rent to more affordable mortgage payments.

And when rents are unaffordable, renters begin making sacrifices like forgoing necessary medical or dental care and contributions to retirement accounts.

Tougher all around

In markets where rents overall are high for all residents, minority neighborhoods are hit even harder than white communities. In Los Angeles, renters in white communities spend 50 percent of their income on rent – well above the recommended 30 percent, but still far less than renters in black or Hispanic neighborhoods, who pay a premium of 63.7 percent and 63 percent, respectively.

In expensive San Francisco, rent in largely black communities requires the greatest share of the median income (74.8 percent), followed by rents in primarily Hispanic communities (62.5 percent) and then, after a sizable gap, rents in predominantly white communities (48.8 percent).

Boston follows a similar trend, with residents in black communities paying 71.2 percent of the median income, followed by 59.5 percent in Hispanic communities and 34.8 percent in white communities.

“This research sheds light on another example of inequality in the housing market,” said Zillow Chief Economist Dr. Svenja Gudell. “Renters in African-American or Hispanic neighborhoods find themselves in a catch-22 situation: While owning a home is a great way to build wealth, you need to save up some cash to be able to buy. If you’re spending close to half of your income on rent, saving for that down payment is going to be incredibly difficult.”

These differences shift for homeowners, with mortgage payments requiring the greatest share of income from owners in Hispanic neighborhoods, at 22.8 percent. Homeowners in white communities allocate more of their incomes to their mortgage payments (15.2 percent) than owners in primarily black communities (13.6 percent).

Still, transitioning from renting to owning remains a challenge for minorities, not only because they have less income left over to save for a down payment, but also because race impacts minorities’ ability to get approved for a mortgage. Home values in predominantly black communities also tend to be much lower than home values in predominantly white communities, contributing to this difference.

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Source: zillow.com

Portrait of a Long-Term Renter: Crossing Generational Divides

For many Americans, owning a home is a rite of passage. But not everyone puts homeownership on their priority list.

Long-term renters (those who have been renting for more than one year) are opting out of the home-buying game for a variety of reasons, from a desire for mobility to simply not being able to afford a home purchase.

It’s not just twenty-somethings who make up this group – the population of long-term renters spans all generations, from millennials to baby boomers.

According to the Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends, 56 percent of today’s renters are millennials (ages 18 to 34). While a majority of renters are in their 20s and 30s, not everyone is in the under-40-club: 28 percent are part of Generation X (ages 35 to 49), and Baby Boomers (ages 50 to 64) make up another 12 percent.

“I want flexibility – not a mortgage”

Many renters are staying in the rental market longer than they planned, as evidenced by falling homeownership rates over the past decade. The Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends reveals that long-term renters are generally content with their current living situations. This echoes what long-term renters across the United States are saying: It’s about flexibility.

Types of Leases
The majority of renters surveyed committed to a year-long lease.

Los Angeles renter and real estate agent Monica Rivera explains that, for her, renting is all about mobility and location. “I choose to rent because I’m not ready to stay in one place just yet, and renting provides a great level of flexibility,” says Rivera, a millennial.

“I know the traditional idea of homeownership has been finding that dream home you’ll live in for seven plus years,” she adds. “Maybe it’s a millennial thing, but I tend to move every two years depending on new opportunities or even proximity to places I enjoy visiting.”

The report also indicates that the longer someone rents, the more likely they are to stay put. More than half of renters not looking to move have rented for five or more years.

Millennial Kim Van Horn has been renting in Seattle, WA for more than five years and intends to rent for up to 10 more. She and her husband enjoy being able to live wherever they like without the constraints of a “house budget.”

“There’s much more flexibility and inventory with renting,” remarks Van Horn.

Jacqueline Smith, a Baby Boomer who lives in Natick, MA, says her reasons for renting revolve around her temporary living situation. After moving for work, the Smith family chose to rent until their children go to college, and then relocate.

“We’re renting just until our last child finishes the first two years of college,” Smith explains. “It’s easier than buying and then trying to sell in a short period of time.”

“What’s the rush?”

The Zillow Group report also indicates that families who have been renting long-term are more likely to plan to move to a purchased home. In fact, 40 percent of long-term renters hope to purchase a home once they decide to move.

Baltimore resident and SparkRental real estate blogger Brian Davis has rented for most of his adult life. Now in his mid-30s and married, Davis intends to continue renting for some time to come. “For now, my wife and I are still enjoying traveling a great deal and don’t need a home larger than our apartment,” he says. He intends to buy a home once they have kids.

Sam Wright, a millennial who lives in Fort Worth, TX, is a teacher and graduate student with plans to move once she finishes her doctoral program. “I rent because it’s far cheaper than owning a home. Even though my rent is slightly more than my mortgage [would be], I pay less in utilities and nothing in terms of maintenance and repair,” she explains.

“Renting also lets me live closer to where I need to be than owning would allow,” Wright notes. She adds that renting for a few years also affords her the time she wants to decide where she’d like to settle down.

“I just can’t afford it”

On the flip side of opting for flexibility is the harsh reality of financial constraints.

Jamie Harsha Sass, a millennial in Ames, IA, recently bought her first home after renting for 16 years. As a single parent and graduate student, Sass says her financial situation wasn’t stable enough to buy a home of her own.

After remarrying, she and her husband were able to purchase a home together. “I never intended to rent for so long, but my life took some serious unplanned detours,” Sass says. “My credit was a mess for almost a decade, which prevented me from buying a home until recently.”

Debt is another issue for many renters who hope to be homeowners some day. Courtenay Cook Stevens, a millennial living in Orem, UT, rents a home for now. She doesn’t think she and her husband have the credit to buy yet.

“We’re a single-income family with two kids and a ton of student loan debt, some credit card debt, some lingering medical debt, and about one year left on our car loan,” Stevens explains. “With the amount of debt we’re in, we wouldn’t be able to get approved for a home loan that would get us the type of home we need. For the time being, renting allows us to enjoy nicer digs than we’d get buying.”

Adrienne Ward, a Baby Boomer in Union Beach, NJ, moved to the East Coast during the recession and could not sell her home in Illinois. She and her husband are currently renting their New Jersey home on a yearly contract. Uncertain of whether her family will buy property in New Jersey given real estate prices, Ward and her husband plan on renting for the foreseeable future.

While owning a home may be perceived as the ultimate American dream, the Zillow Group report shows that in general, long-term renters are happy with their current living situations.

Check out the full Zillow Group Report on Consumer Housing Trends to read more about today’s renter.

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Source: zillow.com