One year ago today, we arrived at the store early for our weekly meeting. Thirty-three cases of COVID-19 had been documented in North Carolina and the virus was now a pandemic with domestic outbreaks in New York and Washington. We sat in a circle to discuss how, and whether, to continue operating. Feelings were evenly split: two of us felt that we should publicly announce a temporary closure to model responsible behavior and encourage others to do the same, two of us felt that the conditions for closure had not been met. Things felt heated—rare in our collective where everyone is friends and decisions are made unanimously—but the disagreement was unexpectedly settled when one of us received a text notification. We stopped debating to read the article that had been shared: “Buncombe County confirms first case in visitor.”
We closed Firestorm's doors and announced a three day suspension of operations. Days stretched into months, and in retrospect that announcement reads as laughably optimistic ("If things do not worsen in Asheville, we will be open for limited hours Friday thru Sunday"). But the seriousness of the situation wasn't lost on us. We understood that "business as usual would be reckless and widespread action is required to prevent the sort of death tolls that we are now seeing from global hotspots." Sadly, the "widespread action" over the last year has been halfhearted, lacked sufficient institutional support, and was everywhere undermined by politicized pushback.
So while all this has gone down in the most unforgivably ruinous manner—a fact that should rightly push the entire world towards the toppling of heartless state and capitalist power—we're grateful that vaccination now offers a pathway out of the crisis for those of us with the privilege of access. Every day we hear from community members who have been vaccinated, and celebrate, knowing that it brings us closer to a time when we can be together again. Our co-op is tentatively working towards a limited reopening in late-May. Until then, stay safe, wear a mask, and keep taking care of each other.