Our wood flooring industry right now has become, in some ways, like Seinfeld: a show about nothing. (Photo: Shutterstock)After several weeks of fairly brisk sales in the Northeast (as was happening during my last post), the COVID-19 virus has begun to wreak economic havoc in addition to its blight upon humanity. Seemingly moving from New York through Connecticut and spreading viciously through Massachusetts and Rhode Island, it appears that here in New Hampshire we have become the primeval edge of the universe. As quickly as the virus spread, so has this “calm eye of the storm” that brings with it an unnerving silence. Phones have quieted. Customers, vendors, and clients have hunkered in. It’s a bit creepy, and yet awkwardly Seinfeldian, that the hardwood flooring industry has at times become a show about nothing.

“Nothing” comes in many forms: a lack of phone calls, toilet paper and sales. Lately, the lack of human contact. Our contractors report that for all there is lacking, they continue to find work on new construction sites and in private residences. Many tell us there are do-it-yourselfers installing flooring and then affording them the time and social distancing to sand and finish their undertakings. Others report that prefinished flooring installations have filled their days quite nicely. For such a lack of interpersonal contact and a silencing of customer service departments, there is still work being done. Nothing from nothing leaves nothing … and hardwood flooring, apparently.

Flooring dealers—brick and mortar shops—seem to be the hardest hit right now. Here, contractors and distributors are considered “COVID essential” based upon our protection of the forest products industry, small businesses, and craftsmen/tradesman. Dealers cannot open their doors to the general public for serious and sobering reasons. Dealers welcome the public in, as contractors and distributors bring our labor and materials out to the public, having the ability to supply goods and services in a safe and socially responsible manner.

Industry people are discussing two distinct concerns: health and safety, and economic preservation. No one wants to catch or spread COVID-19. Similarly, fear exists regarding the possible loss of jobs, savings and financial investments. I spoke with a 95-year-old master craftsman who told me in his lifetime the only thing more daunting than the polio epidemic and Great Depression was war itself. All, he pointed out, were frightful, life-changing, disastrous events, and this pandemic imposes a very similar panic and toxicity. This dark and tragic time in human history is our generation’s “Do you remember where you were when…” moments. The lesson he imparted to me as this quiet “nothing” begins to settle in is that we all get lulled into complacency through years of comfort and abundance. He told me that no matter our progress, something will always drop us to our knees, and from these immensely difficult events, we should pay attention and be prepared. The lessons of this pandemic are ours to impress upon those who follow. There’s a lot to learn from the silent phones—the nothing.

He told me that no matter our progress, something will always drop us to our knees, and from these immensely difficult events, we should pay attention and be prepared.

As of today, Tuesday, April 14 at 4 p.m., we impatiently wait through the growing silence of businesses and busy-ness for what will come next. For those who can work, we do it proudly (and safely). For those who must stay in for the safety of all, be equally proud. For the good of us all, when this is over and we are picking up the pieces, let’s do what we can to honor the rebirth of our world and our industry. Let’s work together, be helpful wherever we can, and begin by sharing our collective years of knowledge, craftsmanship, and modern technologies. We can bring the best of our resources and resolve to the homes that have become our venerated sanctuaries.

Universally, the most beautiful and valuable furnishings in our homes have always been hardwood floors. At this globally trying time, the very decent and talented people of our industry will be here to rebuild and beautify the rooms and spaces that sheltered us through all the darkness and uncertainty. Through the nothingness, prosperity and resolve will resurface and the burned fields will flower. I have said it before, and I believe it to be true … We got this.

Stephen Diggins works for Wood Pro Inc. in their Salem, N.H., branch as manager and training director. He has many years of installation, sanding, finishing, gymnasium design and technical consulting experience, which he uses to assist his flooring customers on a regular basis. With almost 30 years in the flooring industry, he has been a freelance columnist for magazine, newsprint and online medias and has conducted product seminars ranging from wood flooring to luxury vinyl tile.