Letters To My Corporate Overlords

By Karine Vann for Boston Compass (#122)

April 10, 2020

If your email inbox looks anything like mine these last few days, you’re swimming in a whirlpool of corporate copy; eloquent, empty words letting me know about the precautions GEICO is taking to protect me from the coronavirus. But when Delta Airlines writes to say its CEO takes my safety very seriously, it’s hard to give a single F. How can you say you care about my safety when your industry both accelerates and profits from climate change, a longer term threat that will eradicate any semblance of a normal future for me or my children? Ugh.

I’m someone with one foot in two local industries that are getting COVID-screwed: food and freelance writing. (To the editors that ghost their freelancers during a pandemic: there is a special place in hell for you.) But I’m not just concerned about my livelihood. I’m concerned that there will be any small businesses or publications left standing for anyone to work at when all this is through. GEICO and Delta Airlines will be fine. But how will the vinyl record store down the street fare? Or my favorite thrift store? Or the farm I used to work at? Will my favorite café be around when covid-19 skidaddles out of Massachusetts?

It is so important that we remain vigilant about giving way to what some are calling “coronavirus capitalism.” As small restaurants and businesses in major cities shut down, leaving workers without income and artists without venues, Amazon just announced plans to hire 100,000 people to cope with the rise in buying on their site. It’s a recipe for disaster.

Think about how much you hate Boston’s Downtown Crossing, a historic site that should be bustling with a diverse array of interesting bars, artsy venues and handmade goods—the types of vendors that would carry an awesome DIY publication like the Compass. But instead it’s colonized by Primark, TJ Maxx, McDonalds, and Chipotle. (Ok, they do have Brattle Book Shop… but you have to search for it.) This is not an example of Boston putting its best foot forward. Can you imagine being a tourist with only one day to spend in the city and all you see are your corporate, multinational overlords? If only you could get your hands on a Compass! But we don’t distribute at Primark. YET.

That’s the thing about smaller ventures. They, and all the individuality and color they bring with them, get priced out quickly in an economy that favors all things big. Most independent shops have only enough to last them two months in the bank in case of an emergency.

But as the economy comes to a terrifyingly grinding halt, I am telling you right now that Amazon is not your only option. I’ve also been receiving email newsletters from the small businesses I love and frequent across this area, many of whom have shifted to online orders. Typically, I’m someone who shuns ecommerce entirely. I prefer to get my necessities in person, with as little packaging as possible. But since in-person shopping (outside of basic grocery store essentials) is a virtual impossibility now, I’ve been comforted to see small vendors taking advantage of e-commerce to make ends meet in this tough time, and give people like me and you options.

The Somerville Winter Farmers’ Market had to cancel their final market, but they’ve posted a list of vendors that would have staffed it (www.somwintermarket.org/vendors), with links where you can order food and supplies from them directly. If you’re going to spend money, please spend it where it counts. Many small businesses are still doing pick-ups and deliveries of food. If you feel overwhelmed and need a few recommendations: For fresh, local meats during your covid quarantine, I recommend Lilac Hedge Farm based out of Central Mass. You can purchase a pound of grass fed ground beef for ~$10. Winter Moon Roots has a special going on where you can buy 7 lb of carrots for $20! (Trust a former farmer, that’s a great deal.) Alternatively, if you want a one-stop shop, Family Dinner (sharefamilydinner.com) is a great option. They work with all local food producers—many of whom are struggling to find buyers for their produce now that restaurants are out of the picture—putting together weekly groceries and delivering to your door in reusable baggies (though not sure if they’re reusing bags during the pandemic). My one complaint is that the veggies and meats add up quickly, but I know they keep prices as low as possible.

So if you can afford to purchase anything right now, I beg of you: purchase from local, small businesses whenever and wherever you can, so that they’ll still be around when the storm passes. In the meantime, stay safe. Stay healthy. Do not despair, because maybe for the first time since the 1918 influenza, we are literally all in this together. If this goes on long enough, no stone will be left unturned. And don’t hesitate to reach out if you need support, or a shoulder to lean on: vann.karine@gmail.com.