[December, Year of The Plague]

Thanks for dropping by again! We hope 2020 has been … well, you know.

The thing about 2020 that I’ve had to keep reminding myself of is “everyone is going through this right now – the entire planet”. There have been days/weeks where I’ve wanted to call a friend and say “you wouldn’t believe what’s going on now”, but then I pause and am reminded that 2020 has just been a year like no other – for literally everyone. So with that, I have to be cognizant that ‘we’re all in this together’, and you’ve seen a lot of what we’ve seen this year.

It was Friday the 13th (of course) in March while I was traveling in El Paso TX at about 3pm when everything across the country started shutting down. I remember I was in a store when you could see/sense/feel the panic from others. I had planned on driving back home Saturday morning. I remember being on the phone with Tina that night and looking around me at the hotel as everything was being shut down. I stayed, then drove home the next morning as planned.

For 3 weeks, I ‘officed’ from home – the kids were pulled from school (remote learning), businesses were shut down, etc. You know the drill. For the first time in my career, I learned what an “Essential Retailer” was. I was fortunate to learn Pet Food is Essential. So we remained open. And since, business has been absolutely insane. Throughout 2020, we have just been off the charts with growth, traffic, etc. And of course, the stress of operating under a pandemic. Again, you know the drill.

But pet ownership has surged this year – so has the business. My market consists of some very different urbanicities. One of my more liberal areas is Santa Fe - more conservatives are in Texas. While only 5 hours of high desert is between the two, they are worlds apart. The mask issues that we all hear, read, and see in the news and online are real and ugly and have added an imbecilic level of stress to my leaders and teams. In April, when masks were making their way into our lives, we dealt with a lot of surprise/angst/etc when customers walked in. It was new - we had minor flare-ups in complaint calls, etc. But now - December (um, 8 months we've been doing this, folks) ... you have the persistent, dangerous, statement-makers. It’s just silly. None of us like wearing them – but can we all just get through this with some semblance of respect for each other?

Tina was an angel and whipped out one of her sewing machines and made about 200 masks for my team when it all started. I spent a couple of weeks traveling my area distributing what she had made. A few weeks in, I got a visit from our CEO. It was a great visit – but certainly stressful to have the CEO in your market during all of the madness: limited hours, crazy traffic, closed departments, scaled-back labor, masks, etc.

The retail employees that you see during these times deserve a Thank You. For me, it has been a weekly rite to have at least 1 or 2 deep conversations with a leader in a building on 'hanging in there' etc. You see, they are not just dealing with Maskers ... but inventory shortages due to COVID, additional screening and cleaning measures, reduced labor (many retailers cut labor during these times as they did not know what we were facing with shutdowns), OSHA visits, Fire Code visits, State Police checking in, State reporting of any COVID issues, call-outs due to COVID, quarantines due to COVID, updated COVID mandates/measures weekly, personal matters, social distancing, questions and redefining of policies/procedures daily. List goes on and on - many shoppers just do not realize how much it has entailed this year for an operation to operate and remain compliant to the ever-changing rules to a game that none of us has ever had to deal with. There is no playbook.

Elyce and Gavin were to spend the year in high school together this year – but … COVID. Elyce is a senior (!) and Gavin a freshman. But it has all been remote. They were each issued a laptop from school (but typically do their work on their desktop PCs). I will say it has been pretty tough for them. This whole thing has been tough on everyone, but it’s hard to see kids suffer with school being remote. The first month was learning the ropes and conference schedule … then we went through some struggles … but grades just came in and both are good at this point. Still – it has not been easy for them. We are very optimistic that we will be able to celebrate Elyce’s graduation this coming spring without masks and a few hugs and cheers from family. That would be great.

During the spring, Elyce started her path toward her driver’s license. With the shutdowns, our plan of having her in a driving school fell through. So – I took her out driving on the weekends in my car. She was able to sign up for a ‘remote’ driver’s course, which lasted about 2 weeks. But her and I have spent about 100 hours this year driving all over. She will be getting her ‘conditional license’ in a couple of weeks. And Gavin will be next …

The Masks Tina Made Elyce and her permit Gavin at 15!

Really missed not being able to travel for vacations this year. But with that came opportunities for some work at home. Like many others this year, we had a lot of COVID projects.

So yeah – pretty busy year at home.

Tina is well – I respect her ability to deal with the home-schooling/monitoring, etc. I am so appreciative of her patience with me this year. I can’t tell you I’ve been all happy-go-lucky with all of the stress and travel that continues. She’s always so supportive and patient.

Mom and Dad Suina on a 'Socially Distant' visit ...

2020 brought out some of the worst in human behavior, frankly. Seems like society has gone back decades socially. So much hate, anger, conspiracy theories, loons, panic, doom, ignorance, stupidity. This year certainly reassured me of my commitment to stay away from social networks. [If you’re bored, you should check out the movie “The Social Dilemma” … on Netflix. Pretty eye-opening.]

Regardless, I think I speak for the entire family when I say we hope you are safe, healthy, and have made it through this hellacious year as unscathed as humanely possible.

Despite how difficult 2020 was for everyone, there is hope. A vaccine is here. A new year is ahead. As the months progress in front of us, there is hope.