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So here we are now, in increasingly larger numbers across Iowa and nationwide as we round the corner of Memorial Day, getting ready to take those steps into what some continue to call the “new normal.” We’re going back into work. Really, visibly to work on-site — in an office or restaurant, in a store or call center or movie theater.
I first heard that phrase, “new normal,” in 2008 or 2009 during the Great Recession, from an economist — or maybe she was a marketing executive — while working on a far-too-long magazine feature about what was going on across the nation then for manufacturers and the supply chain. There was a lot of concern voiced by business people I interviewed about long-term anxiety.
That phrase has reared back up. Over the past 14 months we’ve heard many asking if will we ever will go back to “normal” post-pandemic. The answer, I think — though I could be misguided, and as we all know I have been wrong once or twice before — is holy heck, yes.
Just look at airline ticket sales. They aren’t where they were pre-pandemic for this time of year so far, but they are climbing, with a bullet. The U.S. Department of Transportation earlier this month reported March 2021 saw a 14 percent uptick in domestic passengers over last year. That’s 39.2 million people who paid money, put on masks and got into seats in confined spaces to sit for some extended period of time. With a bunch of strangers.
The Eastern Iowa Airport in Cedar Rapids this past Monday reported more than a 2,055 percent rise April 2021 over April of this year.
Another close-to-home example: One Saturday a few weeks ago I was driving along South Dubuque Street in Iowa City at about 11 a.m. The early lunchtime restaurant crowd at its sidewalk tables was chock-a-block, just like the good old, what-me-worry days before March 2020.
That sound you hear is business doing its best to ratchet up. With some adjustments.
We all learned some lessons over the past 14 months. We rode it out, as Abby Luther, Zeppelin's Bar and Grill front-of-house manager and managing partner, told The Gazette back in April 2020 when that northeast Cedar Rapids venue was figuring out what to do next in those early days of the coronavirus in Iowa.
“'We've got a row of windows along the front, so we see people pull up,” she explained then. “The combination seems to be working pretty well as far as getting (food orders) out in a timely fashion. … We don't have any plans of shutting down. That's not in the cards. We're just riding it out — that's all we can do.”
At Lightworks Cafe, a family-run business in downtown Cedar Rapids, when dining inside no longer was an option, the restaurant owners raised the building’s exterior street-facing, garage-door-like wall and put in a new wall with two windows — one for walk-up customers to place orders, the other for pick-up.
“It's kind of like a stationary food truck,” Manager Stephanie Barnes commented in December.
Today, more than a year later, Lightworks and Zeppelin’s still are in operation; both "adjustments“ worked.
The Gazette, too, has done a fair amount of adapting because of the pandemic. Among other changes, in 2020 we shifted to an online Gazette Business Awards program.
We recognized for-profits and not-for-profits and individuals for their achievements in that oh, so, challenging time. But instead of our traditional banquet in the autumn, Gazette reporters and I interviewed the award recipients and made those conversations available on our website.
For this year? TrueNorth Cos. once again will be the presenting sponsor. And again some of our reporters and I will be talking to award recipients about lessons those business leaders learned and what they put into practice and what worked — and maybe some of what hasn’t.
We’ll post those interviews on our Gazette website Sept. 9 through 15.
But for all that to happen, we need award recipients, right?
The Gazette is accepting nominations now through July 15. You can nominate a business or organization — or your own — online at thegazette.com/business awards.
You’ll see details and categories on our site, too, from expansion to innovation, community service to economic support.
Oh, and while we’re talking, remember to sign online at 9 a.m. June 8 for our next quarterly Gazette Business Breakfast. The topic will be “Iowa’s Power Grid of the Future” and panelists will include Mayuri Farlinger of Alliant Energy, Michaela Freiburger of the Dubuque County Energy District, Kerri Johannsen of the Iowa Environmental Council, Dusky Terry of ITC Midwest and Chad Wiltz of Van Meter Inc.
You can watch that discussion live — and ask your questions — at thegazette.com/special-events/business-breakfast. The series sponsor is BerganKDV and chat will be recorded for later viewing, too.
It’s 2021 and we’re beyond riding it out.
Michael Chevy Castranova is Gazette business editor and editor of Iowa Ideas magazine; (319) 398-8307.