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How can bricks and mortar reinvent itself for an unknown future?



As restaurants, retail, offices, and other public spaces reopen their doors after an entire season of shutdowns, guests can expect to enter a new reality of sneeze guards, cubicle seats, six-feet floor markers, and more. Unfortunately, many small businesses and even large corporations were not equipped to weather the initial storm of COVID-19, but if those still standing want any chance of survival during and after a modern pandemic, they’ll need to think beyond these sterile quick fixes.

How do these businesses, built on human connection and interaction, redesign their physical spaces to ensure safety, without evoking a scary dystopian cityscape?

With no real end in sight, brick-and-mortar businesses are forced to not only make hasty design choices that will allow them to reopen, but also consider an unknown future. They’ll need to move away from the former trend of creating a flashy, Instagramable experience to focus on core values that directly consider and benefit customers, employees, and the environment’s well-being. (The architecture firm I run could financially benefit from organizations redesigning their physical spaces.)

So, how can these business owners think beyond getting through the next few months and prepare their locations for a long-term customer experience that feels safe, human, on brand, and aesthetically inspiring?

Make it safe

Judging by anyone’s Facebook feed, it’s clear that people have varying levels of comfort in the current physical environment. Some are ready to eat indoors, while others barely feel safe with curbside pickup; some are eager to try on clothes in a dressing room, while others are just fine ordering online. For a brick-and-mortar location, it’s imperative to communicate that guests can safely move through the space. Many of the ways a business needs to adjust its space will go unseen by employees and guests, so it’s important to ensure messaging and signage convey these choices. 

The good news is that there are a variety of solutions to fit every budget. While the gold standard for ventilation and airflow would be the installation of expensive UV-C light air purification in the mechanical system, an improvement in air quality can also be achieved in an existing system by installing higher-efficiency air filters, consistently running the air conditioning, utilizing fresh air intake, and simply keeping windows and doors open.

Material choice is another major consideration in redesigning for a post-COVID world. Bleach-cleanable materials and textiles (typically used in health care settings) are becoming the norm for commercial settings and are readily available to ship on demand without long lead times. Additionally, copper, an on-trend material in the design world right now, is also naturally antimicrobial. Manufacturers have quickly adapted their product lines to include cost-effective options for the utilization of copper such as peel-and-stick solutions, which allow for a quick application that can be completed in a matter of minutes.

Make it human (at a distance)

Many small businesses are the cornerstone of their local communities. How do public spaces where community members gather and connect maintain this purpose in an environment that makes them inherently unsafe? In response to widely accepted social distancing guidelines, making ample space for personal boundaries is key to maintaining the health and safety of employees and customers. The challenge is translating those design choices without losing a sense of connection.

The primary areas of concern for most businesses and offices are common spaces like reception waiting areas, dining areas, meeting rooms, and break rooms. All of these gathering rooms will require a little creative thinking to draw a new floor plan to accommodate social distancing. Seat counts will need to be reduced and should remain adaptable to increase or decrease depending on future social distancing rules. Design choices should also emphasize privacy, with solutions like portable dividers that offer screening between seating.

Technology will also be a major tool in bridging the gap in human connection from six feet away. Smartphone apps will continue to gain momentum, as most small businesses have moved operations online while closed, presenting an opportunity to foster community through a digital experience. Strategically installing viewing monitors at contact points can aid communication of key information between employees and guests.

A successful socially distanced guest experience will also include clear signage directing customers. A more long-term solution than floor marker stickers could be creating clear, yet seamless, flooring and ceiling transitions that more subtly tell people where to go without distracting from the overall design of the space.

Make it pretty

Even though the catalyst for these design updates is grim, it doesn’t mean the aesthetic needs to reflect fear or sterility. Creating a post-COVID space that feels comfortable and inviting is no small feat, but it’s possible to make a space both safe and aesthetically pleasing.

In the current climate, most people have readily adopted outdoor distanced socializing. This shift has created an environment where people associate being outside with safety. So, moving forward, indoor design modifications should bring in more nods to biophilia—an approach to architecture that seeks to connect building occupants more closely to nature—to help create a sense of safety. Our design team predicts that the stark, minimalist interiors that have dominated trends over the past couple of years will start to recede as the public longs for this reconnection to the environment.

Redesigning to incorporate wood grains and a softer color palette adds simple sophistication to an airy environment. Shades of grassy green bring fresh pops of color into the space, while hints of earthy clay and natural metals throughout add underlying balance and warmth. Utilizing real plants and functional art as partitions are a creative way to create a safe distance between guests that feels intentional.

All of this said, any visual communications or design solutions put in place by brick-and-mortar spaces should be flexible and nonpermanent. We have not yet learned all about this virus, and we must give organizations the ability to adjust their spaces to meet the shifting demands of state mandates and guests’ comfort levels.

Lauren Chipman is CEO of Chipman Design Architecture.

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Bitcoin bombs lower, touching the dreaded $30,000 range



This is the web version of the Bull Sheet, Fortune’s no-BS daily newsletter on the markets. Sign up to receive it in your inbox here.

Happy Friday, Bull Sheeters. A risk-off mood has descended over markets as COVID worries intensify. From Tokyo to Frankfurt, there’s red on the screens, and U.S. futures aren’t doing much better. Meanwhile, the Bitcoin bears are out in force; the digital currency is having another rough session.

Below, in the weekly “By the Numbers” section, I get more into the wild ride of the crypto trade, and whether this is a mere blip, or the sign of more pain to come.

In Postscript, I make good on my promise from earlier in the week. You have homework this weekend, dear reader.

But first, let’s see what’s moving markets.

Markets update


  • The major Asia indexes are closing out the week with a whimper, with the Hang Seng down 1.6%.
  • The much anticipated Ant Group IPO could be worth less than 700 billion yuan ($108 billion)—or, half the size of what underwriters were expecting just a few months ago.
  • The China-Australia trade spat has cost the latter about $3 billion—not a huge sum, but it’s putting the pinch on Australian winemakers and other exporters.


  • The European bourses stumbled out of the gates with the Stoxx Europe 600 down 0.4% at the open.
  • The COVID numbers out of the U.K. are truly frightening, and now PM Boris Johnson is signaling the current lockdown measures could extend into the summer. The pound is lower this morning.
  • The deadly winter coronavirus surge knows no borders. France announced that any visitors from aboard—including EU nations—will have to present a negative COVID-19 test to get into the country. And Portugal has suspended all flights to and from the U.K.


  • The U.S. futures point to a weak open after a mixed trading session on Thursday. Still, all three major exchanges look as if they’ll finish the week in the green.
  • The Nasdaq closed at a fresh all-time high yesterday, helped by big gains from Intel. Alas, the chipmaker is down 4.6% in pre-market trade this morning after disclosing mixed results—record sales, but a bottom-line miss.


  • Gold is lower, trading around $1,860/ounce.
  • The dollar is up as equities falter.
  • Crude is down, with Brent steady around $55/barrel.
  • Bitcoin has had a brutal week. It’s down a further 8.7%, trading below $31,000. At one point, it had broken $30k.


By the numbers


Bitcoin bulls, I’ll give you the good news first. The notoriously volatile digital currency, is up 6.3% so far in 2021. Before you get out the cigars, take a peek at the past two weeks. Since hitting its all-time high of $41,940 on Jan. 8, it’s down 26.2%. That’s solidly in bear market territory. The rapid plunge has triggered all kinds of warnings about how low it could go. But cryptocurrency investors aren’t sweating it—they’ve lived through wild swings in the past. Some even see the swoon as a perfectly understandable and necessary correction. With all this in mind, Fortune‘s Robert Hackett answers the question on a lot of investors’ minds these days: Should you add Bitcoin to your portfolio in 2021?


Tomorrow marks the one-year anniversary of the Wuhan lockdown, a news headline that shocked the world at the time. Now stay-at-home orders, border closures and travel restrictions are commonplace the world over. According to the New York Times COVID-19 tracker, official reports show 97,528,800 people have been sickened around the world with at least 2,090,500 deaths. The numbers are worse than anybody thought in those early days. And the near future doesn’t look much better, with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning of a further 100,000 deaths over the next few weeks. The stock market rally aside, it’s been a brutal year.


There’s another recent milestone that means a lot to me. Jan. 21, 2020 was the launch date of the Bull Sheet. The Nasdaq closed that day at 9,370.21, which means the tech-heavy index is up 44.4% since I’ve been writing this newsletter. Had you put 10 grand on QQQ that day, you’d be looking at a pretty impressive return… I want to thank you all for your support in year one. I’m looking forward to the ride in 2021.



As I mentioned earlier this week, my inbox filled up with requests for our ribollita recipe. I’m a man of my word.

Before I share the ribollita recipe, I should explain a bit about its origin. It falls squarely in the cibo povero, or peasant food, category. And it’s Tuscan through and through. You may find something similar across the border in Umbria or here in Lazio, but the Tuscans perfected it.

We pay homage to all those nonne toscane in strictly sticking to the Tuscan version. Our recipe was inspired by the version you find in and around Pienza (I can smell the pecorino cheese whenever I think of that gem of a hill town).

Here goes:

First, a warning… this is a recipe that may trip up kitchen novices. But don’t get discouraged. You’ll earn serious points with loved ones for the effort. And once you’ve perfected it, you’ll be the envy of your investing club.

Ingredients: jar of passata di pomodoro (tomato paste) 400g, white beans (dry) 350-400g, leeks 250g, carrots 80g, 2-3 potatoes, green cabbage 250g, chard 300g, Italian black cabbage 300g, pig bone, laurel leaf, sprigs of fresh rosemary+sage+marjoram, salt.

Step one: the night before you decide to cook the ribollita, soak your white beans overnight.

Step two: You’ll need two big pots. Put your soaked white beans + pig bone + laurel leaf in one of the two big pots. Let’s call this Pot 1. Fill with 2 liters of water and cook over medium heat. Skim off the muck that floats to the top every now and then.

Step two: about 45 minutes later, you can start on your second pot. Let’s call this Pot 2. You start here with your sofrito. Pour in olive oil and cubes of your leeks, carrots and potatoes, plus salt. Let them cook for a bit, then pour in the jar of passata del pomodoro. A good five minutes later, your mix will have thickened.

Step 3: Ladle the boiled broth from the Pot 1 into Pot 2. Add the rest of your cabbages, diced, into Pot 2. Add the sprigs of fresh rosemary+sage+marjoram at the end. We usually tie the sprigs together on a thin string that we can then fish out of the cooking broth at the end. I usually sprinkle a bit more salt in Pot 2 at this point.

Step 4: After you’ve ladled out all the broth from Pot 1, you’ll be left with the pig bone and the white beans. Discard the bone. Scoop out the remainder of the white beans and blend half of those white beans into a paste. Add the white bean paste and the remainder of the whole white beans into Pot 2.

Step 5: At this point, you’re down to a single pot, Pot 2. Let Pot 2 cook for another 45-60 minutes under medium heat.

Serve: Place into your bowl a big slice of toast or, even better, a piece of stale bread; then pour your soup on top. Add a bit of pecorino romano shavings, and a dollop of olive oil.

Pair with Sangiovese or Montepulciano d’Abruzzo, a big-bodied Italian red. You won’t find me drinking a Pino with this dish.

Please share your ribollita photos with me!


Have a nice weekend, everyone… But first, there’s more news below.

Bernhard Warner

As always, you can write to or reply to this email with suggestions and feedback.

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Friday feedback: Tax and PACs



Good morning.

It’s Friday, so some feedback. Former IRS Commissioner Charles Rossotti weighed in after my Wednesday post suggesting President Biden’s spending plans will have to be financed by debt or new taxes. There’s another way, he says—collecting taxes already owed:

“Our plan gets at the heart of the tax gapupper income people who don’t pay what they legally owe. At $574 billion in 2019 alone, the tax gap is equal to what the lower 90% of all individuals pay in federal income taxes annually. This is manifestly unfair.”

You can find more on Rossotti’s proposal here.

And lots of folks commented on my suggestion that companies not pull out of the political contribution game—because they can be a force for pragmatic compromise on important issues. A sampling of the comments:

“I believe buying access, or the NEED to buy access (even if the money goes to both sides of the aisle) is the root of the problem…We have to… restore some sanity to representative government and unwind myriad ways in which special interests control the narrative.”

“How much did the parties just spend in this campaign? Was it 11 billion? (AM: Actually, $14 billion.) How many people can we feed, clothe, shelter and provide job training with even a portion of that ridiculous sum?

“At its heart…the primary objective (of corporate campaign contributions) is stability…Businesses want to know what to expect. With that knowledge, they can plan their strategies and tactics for the future.”

A.H. wrote in to remind me that corporations don’t make contributions directly. They do so through political action committees, which their employees contribute to. And for the record, I’m not a fan of the current campaign finance system. I’m just saying big companies are among the more responsible and pragmatic players in that system, and if they alone pull out, it will get worse.

Finally, my friend Shiva Rajgopal, who teaches at Columbia Business School, sent a paper that he says shows corporate lobbying pays off 10 times better than R&D spending, in terms of its effect on the bottom line. Given that finding, “the bigger question is why do we observe so little as opposed to too much lobbying.” His paper is here.

More news below. And check out Susie Gharib’s new interview with Delta CEO Ed Bastian, who is counting on a “big surge in demand” from business travelers in the second half of this year as the vaccine gets rolled out. “People are tired of Zoom meetings.”

Alan Murray

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Biden to sign executive orders to boost food benefits, workers’ rights as part of Covid relief push



Biden has signed executive orders to offer coronavirus relief as he tries to pass a $1.9 trillion aid package in Congress.

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