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Saturday, June 27, 2020

Upstate Thoughts

Upstate has lots of different meanings, as does 'the catskills'.  There is a geographical boundary, at least for the Catskills, and then there is the 'state of mind' boundary.  For instance, a lot of what what we call the Catskills isn't really in 'the catskills', defined by the State charter/designation.   Counties such as Sullivan and Dutchess lay outside the Catskills and even towns like Stone Ridge, Kerhonkson etc... are not in the Catskills proper, but certainly in the Catskills for both descriptive ease and marketing ease.

Same goes for Upstate.  Upstate literally runs from the Catskills to Buffalo, in concentric rings of furtherness.  I just took a 3 day journey into the middle of the State over the last few days that brought this salient fact home to roost.  Hamilton NY - home of Colgate Uk, Vernon NY - home to Turning Stone Golf resort, and now today we are in Cooperstown - home to more than one would think, including baseball hall of fame, Leatherstocking Golf Course, James Fennimore Cooper and one of the prettiest downtown villages I've seen in a while.

One thing for sure, NY is vast, and it is beautiful, with pockets of wealth and poverty seemingly mixed in at random.

The impacts of the Virus are pronounced, as I can see with mine own eyes, and for a small business guy like myself, alarming.  In this Central NY phase 3 reopening area, the extent the hotels and restaurants are obeying and enforcing the rules is impressive.  6' separation, masks for sure, seating arranged by the book, cooperation from guests and staff.  You can see why NY has succeeded for now in flattening the curve and eliminating the spread.

With the virus shutting down a lot of sports, we've been doing a lot of road biking this season, which is a lot of fun.  But unless you are retired or something, you can't do both road biking and golf, since they take up a chunk of time each.  So golf got shelved, and to 'get it out of our system', we hit 3 upstate courses in 3 days, riding in the '72 Malibu.

Leatherstocking, Cooperstown

Colgate U Course.

The Ostesaga Inn, in Cooperstown.

Turning Stone Indian Reservation golf course.

You can also see the distress of small towns and their associated main street businesses; you can see the big resorts, empty, with 5 staff laid off for every one still working.  Empty main streets, empty restaurants, empty parking lots, empty golf courses, empty hotels.  And these are the areas considered a success.

Translates into lack of jobs, lack of sales tax revenue, lack of real estate swaps, lack of enthusiasm, and lack of cash flow from anything from non-profits to small biz to gigantic resorts.  I frankly don't know how this ends, because I am up close and personal with dozens of small businesses everyday, and while they were not impacted, it's a clear window into the short runway to disaster that many of them would face in the face of such a slow down and shut down.  They aren't packing oodles of rainy day funds.  They don't have a 'what if we have to close in the busiest months of the year' plan.  They don't have a 'how to make money with our tables half full'.

So, best case, that vast federal aid helped to keep them afloat.  But then you have the idea of 'zombie' companies, typically applied to larger companies kept afloat with large government bond buying, and low interest rates, can also apply to much smaller companies, where new debt is high, sales are lower, and the businesses aren't reinvesting, growing, hiring - they are just there, zombie-like, wandering aimlessly through the fog of the final economic consequences of the virus, until they fade away, debt-laden and ruined.  The question then, is this the opening for the creative destruction that makes our way of life tick - in with new out with the old - or this something different.  Either way, it doesn't seem quick, and it doesn't seem like it will help with the wealth and opportunity gap of this country.

That being said, Catskill Farms is once again positioned well, so I have a bit of survivor's guilt, but not too much.  Only thing I hate, is there is so much demand in the marketplace that sales come a little too easy and so my competition will grow, and take our overflow.  I like it best when it's harder and I can watch others in my industry get it all wrong.  That may be a character flaw, but one of the few I'm not trying to improve on.

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