Have you heard? The Pope’s in town.
Perhaps not your town, specifically, but Pope Francis is in the United States. He arrived in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday (Sept. 22), where he stayed until Thursday; he’s been in New York City from Thursday until today; this morning, he leaves for Philadelphia, where he’ll spend all of tomorrow before heading on back to Rome.
Leaving religion out of it (the @Pontifex would understand — he’s Cool Pope), the visit of an individual as globally significant to culture as the leader of the Catholic Church to major touch points of population and industry, and all of the machinations that go into facilitating such an endeavor, has a significant impact on commerce. Although the U.S. cities on Pope Francis’ tour agenda did their best to prepare in advance, his mere presence stateside has altered “business as usual” in ways both large and small, positively and negatively…as well as, in some cases, unforeseen.
Where’s My iPhone, Cool Pope?
As was predicted beforehand, the papal visit hampered delivery schedules in D.C. and New York, while Philadelphia braces for the same situation this weekend.
The Wall Street Journal reported earlier in the week that eCommerce deliveries in many of the areas would come to a standstill, with UPS suspending pickups and deliveries in parts of the three cities to impact a total of 28 ZIP Codes, while FedEx warned customers of service delays and disruptions across 1,210 ZIP Codes. Parts of Philadelphia will experience suspended deliveries and other delays instigated by the U.S. Postal Service, which will remove mailboxes along Pope Francis’ travel route for safety and security reasons.
Regardless of their feelings about the Pope, his visit — and its negative impact on delivery services — could not come at a worse time for Apple loyalists who had been waiting with bated breath to receive their preordered iPhone 6S units on the product’s launch date yesterday. Those consumers in the New York City area appear to be bearing the brunt of iPhone delivery delays, some of whom have been informed by UPS to not expect their cherished smartphones until Monday.
Forcing people to keep using their super-old iPhones (from last year) for three whole days while their shiny new iPhones are out there somewhere, lost and afraid? Not cool, Cool Pope.
With the Pope’s appearance in the three cities making the transport of consumer goods difficult, it’s even worse for the transport of actual humans in those areas trying to get back and forth to work.
AAA warned motorists traveling around D.C., New York and Philadelphia to expect extensive delays, unpredictable road closures and intense security measures.
“This is not the time to just wing it,” said John B. Townsend II, the automobile association’s Mid-Atlantic’s manager of public and government affairs, in a statement. “It is a time to plan ahead and prepare accordingly, similar to planning ahead of a snowstorm.”
It’s a #Popenado!
In New York, the Popenado is so severe that city officials recommended to commuters that their best option is to avoid driving altogether.
“Please use mass transit if you can,” beseeched Polly Trottenberg, New York City’s transportation commissioner (via the WSJ).
As the WSJ noted, however, even mass transit might not be the fix for New York commuters attempting to navigate the Popestorm, with overcrowding on trains, buses and at stations, combined with electrical problems along New Jersey commuter Amtrak tunnels, creating additional difficulties.
What’s the message about buses?
“Don’t take the bus,” an MTA spokesman told the WSJ, citing congested traffic and diverted routes. “That’s the message.”
The subway it is, then — the more-crowded-than-usual subway, given that even taxi and Citi Bike options in New York were bogged down during the Pope’s visit.
The commuter situation was so dire in the city that New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recommended that citizens work from home while Pope Francis was in town.
Work-from-home days? Pretty cool, Cool Pope.
A Blessing For Tourism…
There are some business operators who — regardless of their particular religious affiliations — are welcoming the Pope’s visit with open arms: those in the hospitality industry.
As millions of consumers from outside the regions flocked to D.C., New York and Philadelphia in the hopes of getting a look at Pope Francis and participating in the special events around his appearances, hotels in the surrounding areas reaped a whirlwind.
“This is a once in a lifetime event,” Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau, told Main Line Media News back in the spring. “You’re talking about millions of people coming in very quickly, and creating a demand in a very compressed period of time. This absolutely will push out into the suburbs.”
…And May Merchandise Be Upon You
The Pope’s visit to the United States is an event — and what comes with an event?
Aspiring entrepreneurs in all three of Pope Francis’ city stops have come out of the woodwork to offer his fans Pope-branded (officially and not so much) products, the possibilities of which are limitless and the imagination behind them — well…it ranges.
Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press interviewed a number of people in D.C., New York and Philadelphia who were (and are) hot to sell pope merch, one of whom expected to haul in $10,000 from his goods before the pontiff left New York.
That’s a lot of coin for a couple days of bobblehead sales.
Cool Pope: Bringing profit to businesses wherever he goes! (But, wait — why doesn’t that sound exactly like him…)
Cool Pope: Not Too Hot On Big Capitalism
Pope Francis, being a pretty chill dude as far as religious leaders go (the guy rolls in a Fiat, for Pope’s sake), is very much on record as being against what he refers to as “the idolatry of money” — particularly when it is pursued at the expense of the impoverished.
While praising “the spirit of capitalism” in his address before a joint meeting of Congress on Thursday (Sept. 24), he argued that it must be used for the common good.
“It goes without saying that part of this great effort is the creation and distribution of wealth. The right use of natural resources, the proper application of technology and the harnessing of the spirit of enterprise are essential elements of an economy which seeks to be modern, inclusive and sustainable,” he said. “’Business is a noble vocation, directed to producing wealth and improving the world. It can be a fruitful source of prosperity for the area in which it operates, especially if it sees the creation of jobs as an essential part of its service to the common good.”
He continued (via The Huffington Post): “This common good also includes the earth, a central theme of the encyclical which I recently wrote in order to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all.”
That sort of language doesn’t sit well with some in the economic industry, such as Thomas J. Donohue, the President and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The day before Pope Francis addressed Congress, Donohue wrote a lengthy screed for USA Today in which he called out the pontiff for being “wrong on free enterprise.”
“Putting people to work, bridging the opportunity gap and maintaining a robust social safety net all depend on one simple thing — greater economic growth,” writes Donohue in his column. “It won’t solve all of our problems, but we can’t solve any of them without it.”
Donohue goes on to express his belief that “What the United States has accomplished under a free enterprise system at home and abroad proves that business is not part of the problem; rather, it is a big part of the solution.”
However you might feel about Pope Francis’ stance on capitalism in the U.S., it is undeniable that his recent visit to the country — deliberately or not — certainly had an economic impact.
If you’re a New York resident, you can read all about it on your new iPhone 6S…sometime next week, maybe.