Update #16: A Hole Lot To Think About

Update #16: A Hole Lot To Think About

Dear Clients & Colleagues,

In May, our dear friends at CIC (f/k/a Cambridge Innovation Center) shared a slew of learnings with the CIC community re: their evolving COVID-19 screening program. This incredible undertaking has evolved into what is now called CIC Health, which you should all check out (teaser: $80 PCR tests open to the public with online booking). It was in this May email from CIC that I first learned about the “Swiss Cheese Model” of infection defense, which while most commonly known for its application to cybersecurity, is so damn applicable to COVID-19 defense.

Here’s my best layperson translation of the Swiss Cheese Model applied to COVID-19 (and all else): no singular defense is enough to prevent disease transmission, but by stacking measures and protections we can reliably and effectively stop the spread of the virus. Because each specific defense tactic has certain defects (like holes in Swiss cheese), we need to layer them for maximum protection. Spatial distancing plus mask wearing plus testing plus sanitizing will be highly effective when taken in toto. But just one of these things alone has too many holes to be singularly effective. President Trump and his conspirators learned this recently at their now infamous rose garden gathering, whereat organizers recklessly and ignorantly relied on rapid testing only to prevent the spread of disease.

Swiss Cheese model thinking has guided Graffito’s approach to our own occasional team gatherings, but more importantly it has guided our evolving thinking about our core businesses. We have embraced the reality that there is no singular solution or approache we can successfully deploy to rebuild our retail leasing, real estate advisory, and marketing practices. Leaning into a multilayered approach has the greatest efficacy. Here are some examples of how this thinking has permeated our world:

Retail Leasing
We’ve always known it takes more than just hanging a sign and making calls to effectively lease retail space. Today we are deploying a slew of tactics in our marketing of projects and have recognized that the pre-COVID norms are old and outdated. In addition to expanding the uses we are willing to consider for vacant retail spaces (as detailed in last month’s Update #15: If Not Retail, What?) we are doing more than ever in our communications strategy. Email blasts, direct outreach and social media campaigns aren’t enough. We are layering in new ways of touring space, building project specific websites, drafting user friendly RFPs, and designing interesting and engaging signage. One of the best example of this sort of thinking from us of late is our work on The Charles River Speedway. Gustavo’s blog post about the project from earlier this morning gives a great overview and we challenge all of you to deploy similar thinking on your projects as we head into 2021 (see: Speedway Blog Post, October 30)

Restaurant Survival
We talk a lot about restaurants here at Graffito: how to save them, what they will look like in the future, how to modify their leases, etc. To say that each individual tactic has holes in it is an understatement. Survival for restaurants right now is multi-pronged more than at any other point in recent history. Outdoor dining isn’t enough alone, nor is takeout, nor are meal boxes. As you all continue to work out deals with your restaurant tenants you need to be asking about a multitude of survival tactics and continue to advocate for federal and state assistance. Interestingly, as we heard from Chef Nookie on Podcast Episode 5, some restaurateurs have decided there just aren’t enough layers to stack to make winter survival possible, so they are closing until spring. Others are exploring subscription programs, blankets and fires for outdoor winter dining, virtual cooking classes, and a slew of other tactics, all of which we heard about over the last 5 weeks from Season One Podcast guests Shore Gregory (Island Creek Oyster Bar & Row 34), Kate and Trevor Smith (Thistle & Leek), Tommy Schlesinger-Guidelli (Alcove), Tracy Chang (Pagu), and Ayr Muir (Clover).

Graffito’s (anti)Racism
This is the biggie for us right now; and for perpetuity. We are working hard at Graffito to be less racist, as individuals and as a team. There is no singular fix; and there is no easy path. As detailed in Podcast Episode 7 Bonus Segment, which we just released this morning, we are currently layering readings, financial giving, DEI trainings, and internal workshops. We are just beginning to get comfortable with some shared language and starting to outline goals and tangible next steps. As we get better at talking amongst ourselves, we are also going to get better at talking to you all about how we can collectively make some real progress in building more inclusive, equitable and less racist neighborhoods.

The Graffito Podcast (and Graffito ID)
Our Podcast has for sure been the highlight of the past few months for me. Not only has it precipitated a short-term conversion of our ground floor creative office space into a podcast studio (again, see Update #15: If Not Retail, What?), it is also a demonstration of how much more valuable Graffito is with the addition of the Graffito ID team. The podcast is one more layer we are using to communicate with you all. And similarly, Graffito ID is another layer of our services that allows us to provide more valuable services to our clients and partners. It’s this layering of skills, disciplines, and perspectives that has helped us weather this terrible year; and it’s this stack of holey Graffito cheese that gets me so damn excited about 2021.

2020 isn’t over yet though, but I can proudly say that I have a lot more optimism today than I did back in May, when I wrote Client Update #10: I hope I’m Wrong, which I hit send on just one day before CIC sent out the Swiss Cheese Model email noted above. And despite my belief that November and December will be two of the hardest months of 2020 as related to retail real estate (and all else), I am encouraged that we have more tools to start stacking… And I am sincerely hopeful that by this time in 2021, whether or not it’s snowing outside like it is today in Boston, we’ll be able to safely and warmly gather together indoors, at a really big table, for a meal and a few drinks at our favorite local restaurant.

Back at you all in November. Onward,


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