Columns

Paint in the Time of COVID

Hardware store clerk Jimmye Purser, left, rings up a customer buying paint, from behind a plexiglass barrier built a few days earlier by a co-worker to help protect employees and customers during the new coronavirus outbreak, Wednesday, March 25, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Woody Allen famously said, “eighty percent of success is showing up.” Leaving Allen’s character deficiencies and the many variants of the quote aside, imagine not being able to show up.

That’s how millions of locked-down Americans must be feeling right now. Thankfully, and this could change overnight, I am not one of them. We do have a stay-at-home order here in Oregon, but aside from precluding the ability to sit in a restaurant, the coronavirus has not substantively affected my life.

Yes, this is going to be one of those personal essays—consider yourself warned.

The painting contracting business I have built over 40 years, and am just now in the process of handing off to my son, has not missed a beat. We’re busy.

But when I saw that Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer had closed off the paint aisles at big-box home improvement centers, I got a sick, scared feeling in the pit of my gut. We have a far-left Democrat female governor here in the Beaver State, Kate Brown, and there’s never any telling what she might do.

To be clear, Whitmer did not outright ban the sale of paint. You can still purchase the gallons you need at smaller corporate and independently-owned paint stores. But in Michigan, at big-boxes like Home Depot and Lowes that have more than 50 thousand square feet of sales floor, the paint departments are closed until further notice.

It may be a leap from certain stores to all stores, but the Whitmer ban has me thinking: what if I could not get paint? I’d be done. Instead of bidding jobs and swinging a paintbrush when needed, I’d be sitting home watching The Rifleman reruns like everybody else. Extrapolate that to what’s going on across the country.

You might think that painting and other home improvement projects would be the last thing on people’s minds right now. But the big-box parking lots are brimming hereabouts. There are a lot of homeowners sitting around—the ones who still have discretionary income or savings—looking at peeling paint on their siding or 2013 color schemes on their walls. There’s are legions of do-it-yourselfers waiting in lines outside the big-boxes (which currently allow only 100 shoppers inside at a time) to purchase those nifty two-part garage floor epoxy coating kits with the silver flakes. (I recommend against it.)

We’ve just come off the busiest winter season in years, and while there was an infinitesimal pause in customer phone calls after COVID broke, we’re back on track. I can’t imagine not being able to ply my trade due to restrictions, or because I can’t purchase the materials needed for same. I can only empathize with folks sitting at home, desperate to get back in the game.

So far, so good. As yet, there appears to be no need for me to apply for one of those new small-business loans. To date, I have no need to apply for what appear to be very generous unemployment benefits, even though for the first time in my working life as an independent contractor, due to new COVID-related guidelines, I am eligible for unemployment.

My son plans to spend President Trump’s gifted $1,200 on a new computer. Isn’t that what stimulating the economy is all about? I’ll be putting my Trump money in the bank, until further notice. We won’t be spending our stimulus/relief checks on Top Ramen and toilet paper. (Assuming we can get toilet paper.)

Random thought: how many people will return their check to the Treasury, because they don’t need it?

To be sure, the process of buying paint has changed. Here in Oregon at least, you cannot enter a Sherwin-Williams store. It’s called curbside pick-up—you phone it in and they bring it out. I miss those old times, two months ago, standing around the mixing machines giving the young salespeople a hard time. Note however: if you purchase a top-shelf $29-dollar caulking gun and then decide you could have gotten by with the $7 model, don’t even think about returning it. Until further notice, they’re not taking returns.

Over at home-grown Miller Paints, they’re making a bold move. You can actually enter the store. But only to the front counter. Yellow tape keeps customers out of the aisles; just ask, and they’ll get you what you need. Unless what you need is an N-95 mask. Back in the day, two months ago, such masks were a one-use throw-away item. Now you can’t get them.

One aspect of the painting contracting business has taken a hit: occupied interiors. It is totally understandable that most people don’t want workers in the home during these uncertain and contagious times. Still, we’re getting those calls and were doing those jobs. You haven’t truly socially-distanced until you’ve painted a living room/dining room while the homeowners hide upstairs.

Unoccupied homes and businesses are good to go. Nobody around. Lunch from a drive-thru. We recently got the contract to apply a fresh coat of “Mindful Gray” in the instruction rooms when a local music store closed its doors to walk-ins. Crank up the Def Leppard and roll!

Exterior bid requests are coming at land-office rates. Word: the outside of your home can be professionally painted at no risk to the inhabitants. Just make sure the painters are willing to drive to a gas station for calls of nature, or include a Porta-Potty rental in their bid package.

Again, Oregon, especially Portland, is on lock-down. An extremely healthy local restaurant and tavern marketplace are decimated. There are people out and about, and even a bit of traffic here and there, but lots of people hurting. Ghost town mode prevails in the neighborhoods and downtowns. Nobody knows when that will change.

A tip of the cap to the first responders, the medical professionals, the grocery managers and clerks, the truckers, the utilities workers, and every other front-line worker who is staying the course.

Meanwhile, aside from a handful of worker complaints about unfollowed protocols on some large sites, in Oregon, the construction business and related trades are quietly humming along.  And the busy season is just around the corner.

Nobody has told tradespeople that they can’t go to work.

Jeez…I hope Governor Brown doesn’t see this.

Mark Ellis is the author of A Death on the Horizon, a novel of political upheaval and cultural intrigue. He came aboard at PJ Media in 2015. His literary hangout is Liberty Island. Follow Mark on Twitter.

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