Here's How to Support Local Businesses, Wherever You Are

Lizz Schumer
Photo credit: huePhotography - Getty Images

From Good Housekeeping

The COVIC-19 pandemic hit our communities slowly, then all at once. One day in early March, my partner and I ventured to a local Chinese restaurant to help keep them afloat, after racially-driven fear emptied their dining room. The next week, we visited a local fish spot down the street, reasoning that their tables were far enough apart to adhere to new social distancing rules. A few days after that, our neighborhood shut down completely, gates slamming down one after the other like terrified dominoes. Some businesses taped sheets of paper to their gated-off windows: Closed for pandemic. See you soon. Others just went dark. And our streets haven't felt the same since.

Since then, parts of our country have tentatively begun to reopen. More will follow, in a careful tango with a new reality we still don't fully understand. But one thing is irrefutable: Our local businesses need our help to stay alive, if we want our communities to look anything like they did a few short, harrowing months ago. "Because of the fragility of the small business community, we've found that most have 27 days of emergency cash on hand," says to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Vice President of Small Business Tom Sullivan. That's enough to get them through the first pay period. But even with federal and local relief efforts, we're long past the point where our neighbors need us. Here's what you can do to help, wherever you are.

Shop Local ... Online

Over the past few months, my days have felt a lot emptier without saying hello to the coffee shop owner down the street, exchanging pleasantries with the guy who sells fruit at the corner, or chuckling at the antics of the cat who runs the gift shop on my way to work. And I'm sure they feel the same — because community goes both ways. (Well, maybe not the cat). If you're missing those interactions too, go online to support them. Many local shops have an e-commerce presence, or have begun to offer ways to support them with just the click of a button.

"For small businesses, it’s about more than a financial investment. It’s a sign that you’re here for them, that you care about them, and you believe they have a future and they will survive," explains New York State Lieutenant Governor Kathy Hochul. "And these are not just faceless entities. These are real people behind these stores."

Grab a Gift Card

If you don't need anything now, consider purchasing a gift card for future browsing. Many small shops missed out on life-sustaining revenue around Easter, Passover, Mother's Day, and graduations. "A lot of local retail live and die by the holidays," Hochul says. "They've missed that revenue for the rest of the year." Now's the time to treat yourself — for the community.

The same goes for local restaurants, delis, and bakeries. Even if they aren't currently open, it's worth checking their websites or social media, to see if they offer gift cards. Even those that hadn't in the past may be looking for creative ways to stay afloat, without putting their employees at risk.

Pay in Advance

If you have room in your bank account for it, pay ahead for goods or activities you use regularly, even if you're not utilizing them right now. Think cleaning services, karate or dance classes, even landscape and gardening. Even if you don't live in an area where it's safe to bring in-home cleaners or childcare back to work, consider paying them anyway.

While many of us think of the mom-and-pop stores with a bell on the door when we think about small business, the activities and conveniences that make our lives so much richer also operate on razor-thin margins. And they need us now, if we want them to be around later. Paying early might not break your budget, but it can make a huge difference in theirs. It's also vital for our country, as a whole. "Quite frankly, any cash at all into the economy right now is helpful," Sullivan points out.

Consider Curbside Pickup or Delivery

Some restaurants and bars that didn't previously offer takeout have started doing so, to keep their employees safe and their businesses afloat. Scientists have found that ordering from restaurants is very low-risk, so now's the time to break out the menus and start dialing. If you can, order directly from the restaurant so they don't have to pay costly cuts to third-party delivery services. Ordering takeout doesn't just help our lives feel a little more normal — it helps put America back to work.

As Sullivan explains, 2/3 of the jobs in our country come from small business. "So when you're talking about what gets people off the sidelines into the workforce and putting bread on their table, historically, that comes from small business," he says. "There’s a very real economic reason to support small businesses. There is a both exciting and terrifying phenomenon of that's where jobs have to come from. If we don’t have them, then we’re in real trouble."

Hold Your Own Small Business Saturday

Turn up the AC and think back to the Saturday after Thanksgiving, when we all hit the local gift shops and stock up for the holidays. Sullivan suggests doing the same this weekend — but from the comfort of your couch. "It is one of the neatest things that it's almost become a holiday of sorts, of folks kind of opening up their pocketbooks and wallets and working to find that local shop or local artist," he says. "Granted, it's harder from afar. But there's not really much difference."

Start by looking up your go-to's online. In addition, sites like Locally can help you find nearby stores for goods you'd typically order, and places like Etsy and LivebyLocal can connect you will artisans for the perfect gift.

Offer Other Support

No matter where you live, small businesses form the fabric of our communities. They're the places you ask to sponsor the Little League team, to donate to the school fundraiser, to kick a few dishes to the community potluck. Without them, our world will feel so much less like home. So if you're not in a position to buy right now, stay in touch. Your neighbors need a morale boost, too.

"If you can’t buy now, just send a card with a personalized note to say that you’re thinking about them," Hochul suggests. "If someone's trying to decide whether or not they close up shop forever or make another go of it, that can really make the difference."

And if you or your loved ones are small business owners who need a boost, help is out there. The U.S. Small Business Administration has several pandemic-specific relief funds available. Individuals and organizations have stepped it up to create charity initiatives for each other, too. Consider the Restaurant Employee Relief Fund or the Opportunity Fund, which is working to raise funds to help small business, especially those run by people of color, women, and immigrants.

Spread the Love

While it does take a little more time to find independent retailers, following your favs on social media is one way to stay connected from afar. Many of them share specials, initiatives, and new ways to help out there – including creative endeavors like Zoom performances from comedy troupes and bar trivia online, to name a few.

And while getting an online shoutout after 'gramming a slice from your local slice joint (guilty) doesn't feel quite the same as a handshake from your favorite bartender, it's something. Consider sharing stories of your beloved community spots the simplest way to give back to the people who make up the fabric of our lives.

"Small businesses the ones the community goes to when they need something," Hochul explains. "And now they need something from us."

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