By Emerson Schwartzkopf
The sign wasn’t in English, but it was easy to interpret: Rest Area. And, uh, I needed to rest. A morning of coffee-drinking rolled into a lunch with a nice glass of wine and several glasses of sparkling water. The next scheduled stop would be at least 70km down the road, unless we pulled off the four-laner for a few minutes. However, my companion and I were running late. I decided to buckle down and wait; the rest of the drive proved smooth sailing with no accidents of any kind. This undainty tale wouldn’t mean much, except for the date and location. It was on Feb. 3 at the area servizio Somaglia right in the heart of Italy’s first major contagion of Covid-19, and only a few weeks before the area went into total quarantine. I spent several days in northern Italy just as the country recorded its first positive Covid-19 tests, and the virus was likely moving right through as I strolled through crowds, shook hands at meetings and – somehow – didn’t get sick. A month-and-a-half later, I’m sitting in a home office in a city under lockdown, where the streets are quiet and every restaurant that’s still open is a take-out joint. Long-distance travel and trade shows are no-nos, businesses continue to close down, and the basic question remains unanswerable: When will it end? The email inbox is full of courteous Covid-19 messages of customer support that blur together and lose impact. (How many have you left unopened?) Nearly everyone wants to assure me that it’s difficult, but it’s all OK – and when people say that over-and-over, it gets less-and-less convincing. Right now, everything is an unknown. By the time you read this, things may be clearer. Maybe they won’t. Perhaps it’s time to take stock and consider how to move forward. Among those taking a proactive approach in the hard-surfaces arena are industry associations. The Natural Stone Institute, for example, now regularly updates a Covid-19 resources page as a clearinghouse for information. Efforts are going far beyond a webpage, however. Institute CEO Jim Hieb is part of a regular teleconference with leaders of the International Surface Fabricators Association (ISFA), National Tile Contractors Association (NTCA), World Floor Covering Association and others to work on common strategies and solutions. We’re also adapting here at Stone Update. This edition is appearing later than planned, as we scrapped some content at the last minute and added new articles and information. Months from now, it may look like we overreacted. If so, I’ll gladly lead the laughter at our folly … but I don’t see a lot of chuckles ahead. Apart from a special edition on 2019 imports, our next regular edition will appear this summer, when the world situation should be stabilized. In the meantime, we’ll continue to cover the situation through our website, the Slab and Sheet e-newsletter, and the monthly Hard-Surface Report on imports. The effects of Covid-19 will take time – weeks and months – to fully realize. Shifting a neutral world economy back into gear is something new and it’s bound to be rough in places. Let’s be realistic: Some of the news is going to be awful and unpleasant for a while. Yes, I’ll look for positive bits, but I’m not going to sugar-coat the overall reporting. I did that a dozen years ago when I edited Stone Business Magazine – I refused to even write the word “recession” for months and months – and I apologize for that. I won't do the same thing this time. Covid-19 is not a quick blip. Our business and our lives will be different on the other side of this. The degree of difference is still unknown, and may depend greatly on plans you make now as the world sorts out the situation.
At the top of selected pages of this issue, you'll see a purple "Focus: Covid-19" banner indicating there's special coverage. If you’re going to make important choices for the future, you need and deserve the full story. We’ll give that to you with Stone Update.