The world was moving incredibly fast when everything shut down. So much was happening as we were learning and responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was like watching a movie.
But walking downtown Kalamazoo that first weekend after all bars, restaurants and businesses were closed, the magnanimity of it all set in. It was right around St Patricks’s Day and Oberon Day, when people would be breaking out of their winter hibernation. A 9 p.m. on a Saturday was as empty as 4 a.m.
While we couldn’t really see how other people were responding to the pandemic, downtown was a visual representation of what was happening. There’s a lot of things looking back that seem like an over reaction, such as closing down Bronson Park, but we didn’t know what was happening and were doing the best to contain a virus we didn’t fully understand. Fear and uncertainty were reflected in the darkened windows.
Walking around in the quiet was strangely calming, something I’ve never experienced in the city center. All of the storefronts were dark, the sidewalks were empty, the only sign of light and activity came from the electronic billboard on Michigan Ave with messages encouraging people to stay home and stay safe.
Each day, really, felt new. We had no idea what could happen and greeted each morning without the routines we had built up over the years.
Looking back at these images of the height of the closure, I’m reminded by how empty downtown was actually. There was no one around and nothing happening. When I would see other people walking, we kept out distance. While there was a strange calm about it all, it was became depressing when thinking that every empty building was a business managed by someone who was trying to support their employees, who suddenly had their income stop.
While everything seemed to come to a immediate halt, the natural world kept on progressing. Spring was in full bloom, and focus shifted to the budding trees and greening foliage. Nature seemed as beautiful as ever, since the business of the day was gone.
These images are part of what Kalamazoo experienced in the first months of the pandemic. It’s hard to fully capture the sense of fear and silence that flowed down the streets at night and during the day. But as we learned more about the virus and honed in our response, things began to reopen with the coming of Spring.