Health or wealth? My Dilemma - by Marcus Harvey

Wealth: an abundance of valuable possessions

Health: the state of being free from illness or injury

I’m stuck and have a feeling you all are too. Since COVID first hit Portland almost 70 days ago it’s been a weird time for everyone. I remember driving to Seaside for a basketball tournament with my 6th-grade kids when across the radio “the first case of COVID-19 is now in Oregon and the infected person is at the hospital in Hillsboro.” Hospital in Hillsboro!? We just drove by there, I said out loud. As Coach Kevin and I pulled over we seriously thought if it was safe to let the kids play that weekend or we were putting them in danger.

The following week we were set to have our yearly Portland Gear Anniversary sale which usually turns into lines of people around the building and the clubhouse packed shoulder to shoulder. As a team, we sat and talked about what the right thing to do was. What would happen if people came infected? Would any of us get sick? How many cases are even in Portland right now? Could we get away with it now before it gets too big? What will happen to our sales as this is one of our biggest revenue days of the year? How much money are we going to lose?

When everyone was shutting down their stores and restaurants, we realized we should do the same, but similar thoughts followed. How am I going to tell my employees? How long will this last? What’s going to happen to the business? How much money are we going to lose?

In every decision since this started there’s been a serious dilemma in my head, what’s more important, health or wealth? Sitting here nearly 60 days into the shut down it’s easy to look back and be thankful that we closed the stores, but in those early days the decisions weren’t as easy and we were constantly trying to figure out what was best for our health, and what was best for the business. I’m not the only business owner or politician who’s had to make this decision, and it’s hard! I have compassion for everyone who’s been faced with this same dilemma.

As of this morning, May 9th, there’ve been 121 confirmed deaths in Oregon from COVID, up 3 from yesterday. This is 121 too many and my heart hurts every time I remind myself that these are not just numbers, but moms, dads, grandparents, children. I hate it and mean every sense of the word. My biggest fear in life is death and losing the closest people around me. You can take away Portland Gear, all my possessions and things, but losing people and death scares the shit out of me. What will I regret once they’re gone? What will I kick myself that I did or didn’t do? What memories will I miss out on with them? You see, herein lies the dilemma.

Every business all over the world is suffering right now. Not all businesses are publicly traded on wall street and fully funded. In fact, a very large percentage of businesses in this world are small teams of people working to solve a problem, provide a service, feed us, and keep us alive. Businesses are suffering and have been since the day this hit. Tens of millions of people are out of jobs, with unemployment at levels unseen ever before. Every day in the news, even locally, you see businesses closing up and realizing they won’t be able to make it through.

The business owner in me sees this as an opportunity, that old business models are finally realizing that times have changed and there’s a need for innovation and something new. That a full new wave of entrepreneurs will emerge when this is done and some of the best businesses in the world are being started in back rooms and basements right now! But the soul in me sees the families without jobs, dreams lost, and parents wondering what they’ll do for their next meal. You can see my dilemma.

The same feelings go for opening back up the economy right now and getting Oregon into this “new normal.” Trust me, I’m a business owner and have had the privilege of investing in some other local companies, I see and feel it first hand how bad people need to get back to work so income can be generated and payroll and rent meet. I see and hear employees who have yet to receive unemployment, waiting in a cue constantly calling a phone number every day, waiting for hours to hear their fate. I want things to get back to normal just as bad as you, but that’s the cost?

Since we went on lock down I read we could have prevented nearly 70,000 people from contracting COVID in Oregon, my question is what’s that worth? When something doesn’t happen, it’s so hard to put a value on it, only once it does do we realize the real cost and pain attached to that. By rushing to open are we choosing the desire for wealth and getting our money back in our pockets? Or are we choosing Health and realizing that the safety of our society is of utmost importance. Do we even believe the health of our society comes first anymore?

Trust me, I wanted to be going to Blazer, Timbers, and Thorns games as bad as anyone. Being at huge events with people makes me feel happy and fulfilled. Concerts this summer? That’s my jam, but not this year. Daily Zoom calls and meetings are hard, I just don’t feel the human connection that I’ve grown so used to expecting in my day to day life. Sure work is getting done, and we’re absolutely trying our hardest every day to keep things moving forward, but how do we respond? Do we curl up and give up? Or do we rise to the occasion and play the cards we’ve been dealt.

So what do we do? We listen and do what we’re told. As much as this may suck, hurt, and not be a benefit to us financially, it’s what we all need to do. I see videos of protests and riots going on and on one side, think how ridiculous it is that we as a society feel the need to absolutely disobey the rules to prove a point that could potentially end up hurting others, but on the other side, try to understand that they’re fighting for what they need, their jobs back, income for bills and food, and I’m torn yet again.

This weekend we’re starting curbside pickup and window shopping. We’ve taken every safety precaution to do this correctly and make sure our employees and customers feel safe. We’ll remain 6 feet away, there’ll be no customers in the store, only outside, where we have marked squares on the ground and asking you to please wear a mask. I want to start bringing employees back so badly and having more income to continue paying these bills, but you again see my dilemma.

Here’s my stuck loop. Business can be for good, and generates jobs and keeps money flowing. Putting employees back to work right now can potentially put them in harm’s way, but those very employees are the ones needing income the most to survive. And the loop continues. You see my dilemma. I don’t have answers, and if anything just more questions, but I thought by getting these thoughts into words they could potentially help others who’re feeling the same way. We’ll continue to listen, do what’s right in the safest way possible and begin to rebuild in whatever way we can, it’s what we’ve always done. 

- Marcus