Social distancing is the name of the game — there’s ample data showing that increasing space between people will slow the spread of COVID-19. It’s comforting to see the CDC and local and state governments taking steps to limit exposure.
However, there have been huge ramifications on the economy from these measures. In particular, local businesses that depend on in-person foot traffic for their revenue (restaurants, bars, nail salons, etc.) are seriously hurting.
Unlike major retailers, these local businesses generally don’t have the cash reserves to sustain themselves during these times. We’ll inevitably see many of them close their doors permanently.
But we all want to see our favorite local establishments survive so that we can patronize them when it’s safe to be back out in the world. So, here are a few things you can do as a consumer to help those businesses stay afloat, especially if you’re someone whose income stream isn’t affected by the novel coronavirus.
When you can’t visit a local business now, but you know you’ll want to later, everyone wins when you buy a gift card. Those businesses can record some revenue on their books, and you have something fun to look forward to later.
“Buying gift cards for your local businesses can literally help them stay afloat,” said Morgan Siegel, the founder of Jeddah’s Tea, a tearoom in Durham, North Carolina. “When our customers buy gift cards, it helps keep cash flow steady and in many cases can ensure that small businesses like mine can continue to pay hourly workers whose work time we’ve needed to cut.”
Small businesses that hold events rely on event income to stay in business. With event cancellations happening daily, it can be a terrifying time for locally owned event spaces.
“If you have to cancel an event, try to reschedule instead of asking for a refund. Really make an effort to come back to that space when you can,” said Samantha Myers, co-owner of Let’s Dress Up, a princess-themed play and party space for children in New York.
Thanks to social distancing, people are spending more and more time on their phones and computers. That means more eyes on social media pages.
When you highlight a local business on your social media, it can have a catalytic affect: You’re making your network aware of the business and how they can contribute. Jackie Moran, founder of Wonderpuff Cotton Candy, said, “The best way to continue to support local businesses is to let your community know we still exist. Share on social media your favorite local businesses and encourage your community to do the same.”
Many small businesses would be happy to order supplies and deliver them to you. Consider the small players before you automatically buy from larger companies like Target or Amazon.
According to Jay Savulich, chief operations officer of Rising Tide Capital, “The most important thing to remember if you want to help small businesses in your community is that you are an investor in these businesses. Try to be as thoughtful as possible with where you as a consumer invest your dollars.”
Think about what skills you might offer to businesses on a volunteer basis. Are you a web designer? Finance whiz? You may be able to put those skills to use for good.
According to Jackie Minchillo, who co-owns Joy of Cleaning and Pineapple Development, “Reach out and offer free advice to small business owners you’re connected with who could use help … This is a great time to focus on things like strategy, content marketing, email marketing, social media strategy, and internal processes. So if you’re someone who has expertise in any of these areas, reach out to brick-and-mortar small-business owners and offer guidance. Investment in these areas during downtime will certainly help them boost their bottom line and hit the ground running when operations start to return to normal.”
And a few smaller suggestions: For restaurants, order takeout or delivery rather than foregoing the meal altogether. If you have to pay in person rather than online, consider paying with a credit card over cash — with chip readers, this significantly limits germ exposure for you and the hourly staff. And, if you’re one of those dreaded hand-sanitizer hoarders, consider donating your loot to local businesses
And lastly, according to Luke Pittaway, O’Bleness professor of entrepreneurship in the college of business at Ohio University, we cannot ignore the mental and emotional toll these circumstances will take on business owners.
“If you know somebody who owns a small business, check in on them and make sure they are okay,” said Pittaway. “It is a stressful time for everybody, but add the potential economic impacts and it could be truly awful for some people in our communities, so any support they might get psychologically and practically could be important at this moment.”