looking back

Back to the future

What’s old could be new again in the post-COVID world

By ANNEMARIE SCHUETZ
Posted 5/26/20

Drive-in movies.

The milkman.

Grocery delivery.

Okay, the first two just sound nostalgic, and the third sounds like lockdown. But they are all elements of the past that might …

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looking back

Back to the future

What’s old could be new again in the post-COVID world

Posted

Drive-in movies.

The milkman.

Grocery delivery.

Okay, the first two just sound nostalgic, and the third sounds like lockdown. But they are all elements of the past that might resurface—and stay—in a socially distant world.

Sullivan County Historian John Conway, the author of “Retrospect,” his column on local history, thinks it’s possible. He discussed it briefly in a Zoom talk on May 17 (courtesy of Time and the Valleys Museum) and then elaborated in an email.

“The best thing that could come out of this experience is the return to localism and the revisiting of the notion that sometimes smaller is better,” he said. “I think the grocery store and the milkman both fall into this category.” 

Local means you know the person who brings your milk and your groceries. You know your farmer. And as we try to manage a new, sometimes deadly, viral illness, shops and groceries are reinventing themselves to be safer. It looks a lot like the past. 

“Before the popularity of supermarkets, and even in some cases when I was a small boy in the 1950s, neighborhood grocers would typically take an order over the phone, fill it themselves by picking items from their shelves and then send a delivery boy to the customer’s home with the order,” Conway said. 

“The milkman is a great example, as well. Whether this trend survives pause remains to be seen. It might not, because of the state of the dairy industry, but it would be great if we began supporting local dairy farmers,” he added.

Not only does milk delivery offer convenience, but it reassures us about the security of our local food chain. (In the days of little or no refrigeration, fewer cars and grocery stores that may not have sold milk, delivery meant you had fresh milk every day.) 

The thought of drive-in movies making a comeback is kind of exciting, but Conway warns that streaming may be more appealing. 

But drive-in restaurants could reappear in warmer weather, he said. No, January at a drive-in might not be fun, and that might be why movie drive-in restaurants are in California, not Syracuse.

What might stick around?

“Could something as simple as the family dinner table become commonplace again because of the prolonged isolation? I think that many families had lapsed into staggered mealtimes, eating out a lot, eating on the go, etc.,” he said. “But during the pandemic, I think more families are eating together again. This might be a trend that survives the lockdown.”

He added, “I think that there will be a concerted effort to become more self-sufficient as a nation, and that should also prompt each community to become somewhat more self-sufficient, which was certainly the case decades ago when virtually everything one needed was procured in their own community.”

So in the end, it’s really more about communities becoming more local, about people remembering they have neighbors and reaching out to help. In fact, we might embrace elements of the past that might help us survive this strange present.

What do you think could become popular again? 

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