Reflections on 2020, Hope in 2021

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“Unprecedented” is the Word for 2020

By Dave White, Publisher, SoWal Life & PCB Life

Users of the online dictionary, Dictionary.com, voted “unprecedented” as the People’s Choice 2020 Word of the Year. Can anyone disagree? 2020 has certainly been an unprecedented year of problems, challenges, pivots, solutions and, perhaps, even successes. For many Americans, 2020 has been one of the most challenging years of their lifetimes. And of course, the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s response has again been unprecedented.

Nevertheless, as a community, we have persevered. The “bubble,” as many here call our wonderful slice of paradise, for the most part has held. After a near universal shutdown beginning in March through the better part of May, Florida began a partial reopening beginning after Memorial Day. As a state, we’ve come through better than most parts of the U.S., which are still experiencing significant hardships. We applaud Governor Ron Desantis’ early focus on protecting the most vulnerable, while at the same time looking to mitigate the damage done to Florida residents’ businesses, jobs and livelihoods. As such, Florida’s unemployment rate of just over 6% is one of the lowest in the U.S.

Although we’ve come through this most unprecedented year perhaps better than most across our country, it has not been without many challenges. “Stay Safe” has become as popular in our language as “Have a good day.” Everyone has become more germ conscious and hand sanitizer and mask wearing has become a part of everyday life, and probably will be for a long time to come.

The business community faced many difficult challenges, enduring shutdowns, reductions in hours of operation and seating capacity, social distancing and sanitation issues; each restriction coming with a cost. According to online giant “Yelp,” 61% of restaurants across the U.S. have closed and will never reopen. Here on the Emerald Coast, businesses have fared better, but not without significant challenges.

Despite a competitive environment and upheaval in the market, businesses were forced to innovate on the fly. Many of our local businesses were creative and ingenious. “When the world sees obstacles, we see opportunity,” says local business owner Bob Conrad with Eagle Vision Services. “What we have observed in our communities is a values-based mindset that demands self-leadership and a tenacity of spirit that drives our personal and local culture.”

For instance, “curbside” pickup became a thing! Many upscale restaurants offered take-out or even a delivery service for the first time in order to stay in business and generate revenue.

“All of the restaurants had to make major adjustments, creating outside seating, take-out, drive through, etc.,” says Destin Chamber President Shane Moody. “Also, rental companies had to make some changes due to the governor’s executive orders. And any professional service (accounting, law, banking, etc.) had to adjust to teleworking and zoom calls.”

Though many organizations’ fundraising efforts were cut short due to cancelled events and other activities, some were still very successful through support of our community. For example, Children’s Volunteer Health Network was able to exceed its goal of serving 1,000 students during the school year.

Another example is how our area’s real estate market adapted; as a result of people relocating from more restrictive states to our area, the market is up over 17% year over year which also translates to more activity and growth for our local businesses, construction trades, suppliers, etc.

Other specialized businesses such as J. Leon Art Gallery actually opened its doors for the first time in June. Shantelle Dedicke, owner of local agency Francis Roy said, “Bringing art at a time when a lot of businesses and activities were shut down was challenging. But people were ready for an escape and the new pottery classes, which were small and social distanced, were seemingly therapeutic.”

Amid the struggle, there are signs of hope. If you look, there’s always a silver lining. This is America after all! We can always find that ray of hope, the sun breaking through the clouds on a cold morning; alas, the sun will rise, and the chill will give way to a warm and beautiful day. Yes, you can always find a positive in any situation. For instance, remote working has become much more common. Many will never go back to an office, saving businesses millions.

Working from home means more time with the family; many of us have more time for walking and cycling and enjoying the beach, spending time outdoors, perhaps meeting a new neighbor for the first time! And, of course, enjoying the Florida sun is the best source for vitamin D which contributes to a strengthened immune system!

In the article “Tough Times Never Last, Tough People Do!” Robert H. Schuler said, “We all go through difficulties in life. Sometimes, we just want to give up…. But often, when you look back, you realize that those tough times didn’t last. In fact, they did more for you than success or good times ever could do. There’s a reason why they say that tough times don’t last, but tough people do. It’s because, when you don’t give up, you come away a stronger and more resilient person.

As we look back and say goodbye to a challenging 2020, all of us at Life Media’s family of local newspapers send you our most heartfelt wishes for a blessed and hope-filled New Year.