Last January I wrote a column that embraced the onset of a new decade with the hope that better days lay ahead—a new era that would move us on from the political divide engulfing our country and a wish that the “retail apocalypse” would cease. Well, can we get a take two, a mulligan or, as we say in our biz, a make good? I mean, seriously! There are bad years and then there’s the raging dumpster fire that was 2020, the new benchmark for all things bad.
On an industry scale, the virus-induced new normal exploded into a perfect storm of nationwide lockdowns, record-breaking layoffs and pandemic pivots—like curbside pickups, contactless payments and obtaining essential business status to stay open. Everyone was thrust into an unknown where the government’s safety net, the Payment Protection Program, had mixed results at best and gross fraud occurred at worst.
For most, the pandemic meant adapt on the fly, or die. Sadly, too many died, and those who didn’t capsize during the first wave have been hanging on for dear life amid the second surge. In our April/May issue, we published a feature called “The Virus Diaries,” a collection or retailers and wholesalers offering accounts of how they were riding out the storm. It was the most compelling, informative, brutally honest, sad, at times funny (gallows humor), insightful and downright scary content we’ve featured in our 31-year history. But the underlying theme there, and in the issues that have followed, is to never quit. The stories of resilience and reinvention are true sources of inspiration. I’d be lying if I said they didn’t help me to keep going this year.
The 300,000-plus Americans whose lives the virus has claimed are far more than a grim statistic. The passing of my father in-law in early April due to
Covid-19 brought this fact (literally) home. The fact that he asked my family to come from New York to stay in Connecticut—where it would be safer—only makes it more horrible. I’d be lying (again) if I didn’t admit that there were days when I would have walked away from it all if I could.
But I did walk—a lot this past year. Over 1,000 miles in rain, heat and snow and across trails and streets as a way to clear my head, look at pretty things and feel rejuvenated on some level. With me on every step of those journeys has been a trusty pair of hiking boots that I was gifted last winter. Little did I know then how important they would become to my physical and mental well-being. Incredibly comfortable from the first step, the boots have held up in a range of conditions—to the point that they might well be indestructible. They’ve become like a second skin.
On my many walks I’ve spotted deer, osprey, cranes, a fisher cat, dogs, rats and pigeons (NYC wildlife), giant spiders and even a Northern Black Racer snake that slithered across my regular path—twice! I watched flocks of colorful birds taking baths in fresh rain puddles, chirping and flapping like it was a grand pool party. A deer shadowed me on a desolate trail in southern New Jersey as a sonorous wind rushed through the pines—a sound I’ll never forget. Nor will I forget when that deer sprang more than six feet into the air and just disappeared. I took in rainbows, magnificent sunsets and ominous thunder clouds. I saw people in masks walk by, our eyes often meeting in a brief exchange as if to say, “Hopefully this too shall pass.”
Highlights of my walk through 2020 and the trusty boots I wore every step of the way.
The road of life is rough and unpredictable. All you can do is try to keep walking. I highly recommend a trusty pair of boots to help traverse the ups and downs. Or maybe running shoes to decompress and slippers to snuggle on the couch while binge-watching your favorite shows. Along those lines, Robert Mullaney, CEO of RG Barry, makers of Dearfoams slippers and the subject of our Q&A (p. 8), recalls numerous occasions this past year when people (mainly via Zoom) lifted their feet and gushed about how the brand’s slippers have become essential wear. Nothing is more rewarding or affirming, Mullaney says.
Our industry may have been upended by this pandemic, but it is by no means less relevant. Just wait until the world gets back to working fully, when we can travel and come together again. I believe the desire to buy shoes will be unprecedented. We deserve a little good fortune. Here’s to a happier New Year!