Palm Springs as a ghost town was something few of us had ever seen. Yet by early March of this year, downtown was virtually empty of people and cars. It was like some classic B movie scene from the apocalypse.
I knew this season in the desert was going to be different because of the pandemic. It began last March when California gradually began enacting many of their restrictions to contain the virus. By mid-March, for all intensive purposes, Palm Springs had completely shut down. The restrictions continued throughout the summer and now into the fall.
Snowbirds and Canadians, our always reliable winter visitors, have slowed to a mere trickle of what they used to be. Canadian medical rules have made travel to the United States a challenging venture and getting sick here is frightening to our Northern neighbors. For those who did venture south, golfing provided a respite from the many other activities that had been canceled.
Vacation rentals, usually a major part in our real estate activities, have slowed down considerably from years past. Large gatherings are either forbidden or strongly discouraged. The old ideas of coming to the desert from out-of-town to party have taken on a whole new meaning.
Last Spring, restaurant dining had all but disappeared. It’s gotten better but indoor dining is limited and outdoor dining doesn’t fare much better. With outdoor heaters to ward of the desert night chills, they can still squeeze them in, as long as the packing is practicing social distancing.
Hotels were closed for three and four months this summer and only recently have begun the long arduous process of rehiring staff and advertising their presence in the desert. Chains like Marriott and Double Tree and the Ritz have fared better than most Mom and Pop establishments.
Like many restaurants, most coffee shops offer large outdoor patios so their traffic has been redirected but not curtail too much. Indoor dining is very restricted.
Libraries no longer offer any place to sit and browse the racks. Books, movies, CDs, DVDs and magazines are still available for check-out but the long admired ambiance of our libraries as social gathering spots for the locals has gone the way of COVID.
On the flipside, bike shops are doing a booming business. Like most shops around the country, Palm Springs Cyclery has enjoyed increased foot traffic and week long waits for mechanical work. Oldsters who have been on a bicycle for years are rediscovering the joys of two wheel travel. Many of them are opting for E-Bikes (motorized bicycles) to glide over the few hills we have in town.
Another bright spot in a very dismal market is our local real estate. Hard to believe but the pandemic has created ideal conditions for a dramatic spike in home sales throughout the Coachella Valley. With so many people working from home, and realizing that home can be anywhere, the desert is looking more attractive than ever.
Seven months into the pandemic, the number of pending sales of single-family homes and condominiums was up 56 percent and 42 percent, respectively, over the same period last year. It would seem the virus is causing a lot of folks to want to get out of densely populated cities and escape to less crowded areas of the country.
This season is very much about working with what one has.
If the library is limiting its book take-out, I’ve always got ‘Better World Books’ and their cheap books to buy online. Sharon and I aren’t using our social membership at the Saguaro Hotel for swimming and working out, so now we use our favorite walking spot: the berm between Smoke Tree Stables and the wash.
I have my mountain trails to plod along and my elevated hikes taking me to the top. We both have bicycles, the peddling kind, not electric, to tour our local neighbor-hoods. It’s forced exercise of the very best kind. So I guess we’ll just wait it out and enjoy the amenities we have all around us.