Brick and Mortar is Here to Stay

I have spent the better part of the last four months thinking about the future of retail – and I am not alone.  Is this pandemic the end of brick and mortal retail?  Will consumers return to stores?  Is online forever the path to purchase?  Is Amazon really going to take over the world?  These are just some of the questions swirling around in my head.
Yesterday, I lived these questions as a consumer, as a shopper.  A few things about my shopping and buying patterns to put yesterday’s experience into context.  I am not an avid shopper.  I buy quality over quantity. I have never liked malls. I am highly loyal to a few stores I love.  The last time that I was in a (non grocery) store was March 4th and I can’t remember the last time I went shopping with a girlfriend.
Yesterday, I went shopping with a girlfriend. She took me to her favorite store in Tinos, Karybu.  I was so excited about this girlfriend shopping expedition that I dressed up and did my hair.  We browsed, chatted with the owner (who happens to be from Basel Switzerland), compared our preferences in earrings, and I bought a (surprise) gift for my husband. We had the best time.  Yes we were wearing masks.  Yes we social distanced.  Yes one of the sales associates was keeping track of the customer count in the boutique. And, it was amazing.  It lifted my spirits.  It was nothing I could have experienced online.
I had the same feeling as I did a couple of weeks ago, on July 23 rd , which was my first return to a brick and mortar non grocery store since March 4th (albeit by myself).  I walked in to Apostrophe in Geneva, Switzerland, my absolutely favorite clothing store, where I have been shopping during each Geneva visit for 15+ years.  I did not enter this store with a specific need in mind – it was more of a ritual, and the opportunity to speak with the lovely boutique manager about her pandemic experience.  And, I bought a dress.  A complete impulse buy.  A dress completely opposite to every dress in my closet – patterned and colorful.  A dress the manager (who knows me and my black wardrobe) picked for me, promising me that it looked better on than on the hanger and that it was made for me.  I decided to trust her – and she was right.  I wore it to my sister’s rehearsal dinner and received more compliments than I knew what to do with.  It may
be my favorite dress I have ever owned.  I never would have purchased this online.

Online shopping will never go away.  Neither will brick and mortar shopping.  The “in real life” experience matters.  The discovery matters.  The human connection matters.

The Summer of 2020

I am writing this from Greece, more specifically from the Island of Tinos in the Cyclades. I realize how privileged this sentence is in this strange summer of 2020. As I write this, the United States is #1 in total COVID-19 cases and in COVID-19 deaths. My second home, Louisiana, has the highest of COVID-19 cases per capita in the US. Americans are not allowed in European countries – including Greece. And many remain without employment, including so many of my spa and salon friends who are still not allowed to return to their jobs. 

Considering this bleakest of situations back home, it seems surreal to wake up to the blue Aegean, on an island where life seems unchanged since my first visit when I was a child. 

It also seems like gloating. Travel envy is as prevalent these days as Zoom fatigue. I had thus decided not to post anything on social media about my current whereabouts. And then I changed my mind. My friend Kelly reminded me that “people follow you to see your life; it’s not bragging. … Also most of your followers know you vacay in Greece.”   

So instead of pretending I’m not here, I am here. And I want to tell you about my trip. 

My husband and I left the US for Switzerland on July 11. We changed this date twice, and the airline changed our itinerary three times. Finally booked on a flight that would actually happen, we flew from DC and New Orleans (respectively) to Dallas, then to London, then to Geneva. I can travel to Europe as I have a Swiss passport (so Switzerland has to let me in) and a US passport (so the US has to let me return). Edwin can travel with me, with his lone US passport, because we are legally married, and our marriage is properly registered in Switzerland. Having said that, as we were checking in to our international flight from two different cities, just getting his boarding pass printed in New Orleans was a challenge. The system would not let the check-in agent do anything with his US data, until he was able to show a letter from the Swiss Embassy proving our marriage, my record locator proving we were meeting in Dallas and doing the rest of the trip together, and a photo of my Swiss passport proving my double nationality. 

Step 1, checking in. Done. 

Step 2, boarding the DFW-Heathrow flight. We were called by the gate agent prior to boarding and had to show all of our paperwork again. 

Step 3, actually being let in to the EU at Heathrow. At the automatic transit desk, where you usually scan your boarding pass and the light automatically turns green and the gate opens to let you through, we are surprised as instead, the light turns red and makes a loud unpleasant sound. We try again. Same thing. We sheepishly head to the stern-looking lady at the “in person desk.” We show her our boarding passes, including the one from London to Geneva. She types something in her computer. “Are you married?” she asks. Yes, we respond, as I show that prized piece of paper from the Swiss Embassy once again. She looks at it, picks up the phone, and starts explaining something to a superior. In the middle of the conversation, she asks us “You wouldn’t also happen to have a certified copy of your marriage certificate, would you?”. Well, as a matter of fact, yes of course we do (who doesn’t travel with their notarized marriage certificate?). We smile and hand it to her. More conversation with superior. And then, finally, she manually scans our boarding passes. The light turns green, and the gate opens. We are officially on EU soil. 

(Side notes for those considering travel: We wore N95 masks on every plane, and surgical masks in every airport. We had shields with us but neither of us used them. We did not wear protective clothing or glasses.) 

There is nothing further to report until we get to customs in Switzerland. Once again, our marital status is questioned. Once again, the magical Swiss Embassy letter comes in handy. I offer our marriage certificate, but the customs agent nicely says the embassy letter suffices. Before she clears us, she reminds us of the Swiss government mandated ten-day quarantine we are facing upon entry (implemented July 6), and that we must register ourselves with the proper authorities when we arrive at our place of quarantine. Here, my Swiss passport is of no help. I have come from the unfortunate United States of America – and so I too, not just my American husband, must quarantine. 

Indeed, this is why we had to change our travel date to start with. The reason for this trip was first and foremost my sister’s wedding. To be “free” on the 24th, for the rehearsal dinner, we needed to have 10 days (+2 for “just in case”) of quarantine. And quarantine, in Switzerland, well, is very Swiss. We called to register with the Canton (the state of Geneva) as required. Throughout the ten days, we each received two “check in” calls, aka monitoring calls. Were we taking quarantine seriously? (Yes) Had we left our place of residence? (No) And did we have any symptoms? (No). Ten days without leaving the house was a first for me, as it was for Edwin. Luckily, we found the most beautiful AirBNB (with a terrace) to spend these ten days, Courtyard #1 at The Hamlet in the center of Old Town Geneva. Nothing to complain about, other than my inability to go for long runs along the lake as I like to do. 

We made it. We were present at Rachel and Bernard’s ceremony of love and I was able to give my speech. And then, the last leg of the trip was upon us. Zurich to Athens

(Second side note: My father is a medical doctor, and offered to give us COVID-19 tests, with results coming in within 24 hours, at any time during our stay in Geneva. We declined, because we never had any symptoms, and also because we did not know what we would do with the information should this test come back positive.)  

Similarly to our ability to travel to Switzerland, we were allowed to travel to Greece because of my Swiss (and Italian) passport and our married status. We had to fill out an online travel form (the Passenger Locator Form) 48 hours prior to boarding. This included questions such as permanent address, and where we had spent the last 14 days. Based on this questionnaire, upon arrival in Athens, we would be directed either to baggage claim, or to a COVID-19 testing area in the airport. Should the latter happen, we would have to quarantine for 24 hours until our test results came back. Luckily, we were directed to baggage claim (I do believe being able to say that we had spent the last 14 days in Switzerland had much to do with this). 

And then, we were in Greece! Baggage claim, taxi to Rafina, slow ferry to Tinos (no fast ferries are running at this time due to decreased traveler demands). And then, we were in the village of Isternia, my happy place. 

So here I am. A blend of working from home and vacationing in Europe. Life in Europe (specifically Geneva and Tinos), is surprisingly normal. Limited travel offerings (from short airport lines, a closed restaurant at the Zurich airport hotel, the lack of fast ferries) remind me that life is not quite normal. People wearing masks (mandated on public transportation and inside stores in Switzerland, and in the grocery store on Tinos) remind me that life is not quite normal. Yet mostly, people are going about their business. Children are at summer camp or at the beach. Adults are on vacation, on their honeymoons, or working their normal jobs. Is it because summers in Europe are spent outside versus in the air conditioned indoors? Is it because wearing a mask has not become a political statement? 

I cannot help but return to thoughts of my friends at home, some who have lost loved ones to COVID-19, some who are suffering from the disease, many whose businesses are hemorrhaging. I worry about what will happen when school reopens (indeed the news from counties who have begun to reopen are dreadful). I worry about what will happen when unemployment goes up more. I worry about the fall and the holiday season. I do not know why things feel better, more “normal” here. But I do know that we, Americans, can do better. 

July First Musings

July 1. New month. New quarter. 2nd half of 2020. 183rd day of the year, 183 days to go. Today, I choose to celebrate. celebrate. I have once and for all put to rest all of my grand 2020 plans (made pre-COVID-19), I have once and for all accepted that this current reality is indeed the new normal and will be for quite some time. Today, I choose to celebrate. 

I celebrate the first half of the year.  

  • My family and I are alive and healthy. 
  • My Mom got COVID-19 and beat it. 
  • I have spent 107 days and nights in a row with my husband and we are more in love than ever. 
  • I am still in business.  
  • I work in an industry that will never go away and that makes people not only look better, but also feel better. 
  • I did not lay off or furlough anyone on my Alchimie team. 
  • I became a cat mom. 

Today, I also choose to focus on all that I have to look forward to in the second half of 2020.  

  • My sister Rachel’s wedding (praying to the travel gods).
  • Botox at Forever Institut (praying to the travel gods).
  • A couple of weeks in Tinos, Greece (praying to the travel gods). 
  • Hamilton on Disney Plus
  • The elections. 
  • Quiet dinners at home with my husband and cat babies. 
  • Quiet dinners out in those places that are excelling at safety measures and social distancing (including Bourbon Steak and Peacock Café
  • Getting back out in the field. 
  • And, I am sure, many (hopefully good) surprises…   

 Here’s to the second half of 2020! 

Lockdown Numbers

I love numbers. And putting these numbers down on paper was an interesting exercise… 

Number of days sheltering in place (technically in two places): 83

Number of days without airplane travel: 88

Number of scheduled trips cancelled: 14

Number of road trips back and forth between Louisiana and DC: 3 

Number of days since last Alchimie client visit: 87

Number of Zoom meetings: too many to count 

Number of virtual book clubs: 2 

Number of books read: 5 

Number of email newsletters unsubscribed from: 19 

Number of kittens adopted: 2

Number of pounds gained: 0 

Number of Botox appointments: 0 

Number of consecutive days and nights with my husband: 88

*Inspired by my very smart friend Marc Ross!

“Love is the precursor to contribution” and other wisdom from Marcus Buckingham

Last week I had the privilege of attending the annual International Spa Association (ISPA) conference at The Venetian in Las Vegas. There were many highlights, including reconnecting with spa friends, listening to Susan Cain speak about introverts, dinner at Morel’s, and more. Yet what I can’t stop thinking about is the presentation Marcus Buckingham gave on the topic of his latest book, Nine Lies About Work.

Here are the nine workplace misconceptions (aka lies):

  • People care which company they work for (they care which company they join).
  • The best (strategic) plan wins (forget about them, yet planning is a great activity to engage in)
  • The best companies cascade goals (yet alignment is a good thing)
  • The best people are well-rounded
  • People need feedback
  • People can reliably rate other people
  • People have potential (everyone can get better)
  • Work / life balance matters most (balance is stasis and we don’t want stasis)
  • Leadership is a “thing” (there is no such thing as leadership, if you look at great leaders, they are all different)

I am still wrapping my head around these misconceptions and can’t wait to dig deeper with Buckingham’s book. I also jotted down a few other amazing one-liners from his presentation:

  • Average is homogeneous; excellence looks weird quickly
  • Define a job by the outcome not the method
  • Your strengths are your key areas of development (your weaknesses are not)
  • Your future greatness is based on your current goodness
  • Strength replays (stop saying “stop that” but “keep doing that,” not to celebrate but to interrogate)
  • Good job is not the end of the sentence; good job is the start of a sentence (a sentence that includes these questions) what were you thinking? what was going on? what worked?)
  • Love is the precursor to contribution
  • Burnout is the absence of love
  • Don’t do what you love but find love in what you do – a little love goes a long way to fight against the feeling of burnout

Thank you Marcus Buckingham, and thank you ISPA!

 

Tinos Reading List – 2019 Edition

One of my biggest pleasures on vacation is the ability to read during the day for hours on end. I try to consume a book every day or two. Fiction, non-fiction, recently published books, older publications. Always paper books – no e-book for me, even though it does mean all of these traveled in my suitcase from DC to Tinos, via Geneva. 

Here is my (very ambitious) reading list for this year’s time in Tinos. 

Bad Blood by Jon Carreyrou. I have been fascinated by Elizabeth Holmes and Theranos for as long as I can remember, thinking of her as an example of what a woman entrepreneur can accomplish. Her company’s demise makes her all that more fascinating to me. And this book reads like fiction – and is the perfect example of reality being stranger (and more stressful!) than fiction. 

The Next Girl; Her Pretty Bones; and Her Final Hour by Carla Kovach. These three will be my guilty pleasures, crime thrillers that will be hard to put down. 

Profits Aren’t Everything, They’re the Only Thing by George Cloutier. I have been meaning to read this for some time after my husband gave it to me as a reminder that while a company’s mission is everything, profits make the mission possible. 

The Naked Truth by Leslie Morgan. This is our next Book Club book, a memoir of a woman in her 50s who gets divorced and decides to actively date for a year (aka have sex with five guys) to get over her sorrows. 

Atomic Habits by James Clear. My friend Jenny gave me this book as she knows one of my favorites is The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I can’t wait to dive into this one! 

Getting Everything You Can Out Of All You’ve Got by Jay Abraham. A Brigadoon-recommended book, these never disappoint. 

Building a Great Business by Ari Weinszweig. Adam Ross, co-founder of Heyday, with whom I enjoy trading book recommendations, said this was the best book he read in 2018. “Unconventional, but awesome,” I believe were his exact words. 

Le Prophète by Khalil Gibran. My sister Cyrille gave me this book (one of her personal favorites) last week. I guess she thought I needed to add something less prosaic than all my business books to my reading list…  

Le Nouveau Féminimse by Barbara Polla. It’s not a Tinos reading list without my Mom’s latest non-fiction… and this one will be quite the controversial read. 

What are you reading this summer?