Strange Days

What used to be a cacophony of discussions, ringing phones and occasional laughter has been replaced with silence or faint music playing in a staffer’s office

By Kellyn Brown

It’s easy to take for granted everything we have until it’s gone. Our favorite gyms, breweries and barbershops. Those businesses and others have had to adapt. Some closed and laid off employees. Others have temporarily moved their operations online. At least local restaurants are still offering takeout and delivery.

We should all support them, but it’s not the same.

One of the best parts of our shoulder seasons is that we have the run of the place. We bump into friends and neighbors at the pond skim at Whitefish Mountain Resort, or at the Creston Auction or at a downtown pub where, this time of year, locals outnumber tourists.

Now those hardy spring visitors have had to stay home, and so have the rest of us. A season best spent reconnecting with friends who live here full-time is now spent at a safe social distance or not at all.

Gov. Steve Bullock issued a stay-at-home directive last week, temporarily closing all “non-essential” businesses in an effort to slow the coronavirus pandemic in Montana. The executive order is a nicer way of saying “shelter in place” and will last until at least April 10. It adds to the closures already in place across the state, including our schools.

To be sure, what’s deemed essential is broadly defined and everything from banks to hardware stores to firearms suppliers to auto repair shops can remain open if their employees can comply with social-distancing requirements “to the greatest extent feasible.”

Liquor stores and medical cannabis dispensaries also made the list. And when you consider what happened in Colorado, Bullock was wise to include them. In Denver, Mayor Michael Hancock announced on March 23 that those establishments would shutter and suggested the city’s residents stock up while they still could. Here’s what happened next:

“Denverites did just that, swarming their neighborhood liquor stores Monday afternoon in response — and violating social distancing requirements while they were at it — with some stores reporting lines forming a block long just 15 minutes after the mayor’s press conference,” according to a story in the Denver Post.

Hancock changed course just hours later and allowed liquor and marijuana stores to remain open “with extreme physical distancing in place.”

Media was also deemed essential, according to Bullock’s directive. We can still come to work every day, but things have changed around here. For one, our doors are locked to prevent walk-in traffic. And each day more of our staffers are working remotely as we increasingly use alternative means to conduct interviews and communicate with clients. The skeleton crew continuing operations at our Kalispell office keeps its distance from each other and we type and answer calls next to a tube of sanitizer on each of our desks.

These are strange days at the Beacon headquarters — just like everywhere else. It’s quiet. Too quiet.

What used to be a cacophony of discussions, ringing phones and occasional laughter has been replaced with silence or faint music playing in a staffer’s office. We occasionally remind each other how surreal it is to cover this pandemic, as if we need reassurance it’s actually happening.

We’re all in this together, but I sure miss seeing my friends and neighbors in this valley we all call home. Stay safe out there.

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