By Melody Warnick on March 17, 2020 09:29 AM
Social distancing is the right thing to do right now, full stop. But the worry is that if everyone stays home, we won’t just shut down Covid-19, we’ll shut down small businesses as well. Most local businesses have already lost massive amounts of revenue as people self-quarantine, and some states are starting to mandate the closure of bars and restaurants. With potentially weeks’ worth of lost income, the local businesses that are so integral to the fabric and character of our communities may not have the margin to survive.
So maybe quit panic-buying toilet paper and start panic-buying stuff from the local stores, restaurants and service providers you care about. Here’s how to support the small businesses that need your help right now — without risking your health.
1. Buy a gift card.
Businesses need cash flow right now, and the easiest way to help them out is to buy some gift cards to use down the road.
Lots of shops are offering gift card bonuses right now, so treat yourself. Even better, treat someone else. Email a gift card that lets your nurse friend order some after-work tacos. Donate an art store gift card to your local school. Or stock up on cards from coffee shops, nail salons, yoga studios and bookstores to hand out as gifts down the road. It may be hard to believe, but Mother’s Day, birthdays and teacher appreciation week are still going to happen this year. Get your gift-shopping done now when it can make a huge impact on a struggling local business.
2. Get delivery.
Hanging out in your favorite diner is not a good look at the moment. Luckily, most restaurants and shops have stepped up options like delivery or curbside pickup so you can minimize contact with humans. If you can afford it, commit to ordering in a few meals this week.
3. Shop local online.
Lots of local shops keep at least some inventory available to order online. That boutique bag you’ve been eyeing? The great piece of local art? Now's the time to treat yourself. This is a perfect time to support indie bookstores, too. Many of them have closed to the public but are offering free shipping, curbside pickup and local deliveries. And trust us: you don't want to quarantine without a stack of good books. (Prefer audiobooks? Get your favorites through libro.fm, an audiobook company that partners exclusively with indie bookstores.)
4. Tip like a boss.
It’s a crappy time to be a waiter, delivery driver, or barista, because not only are they likely working fewer hours, they’re getting fewer tips from their nonexistent customers. (Plus: Sick leave? What sick leave?) If you can afford it, make someone’s day with a massive tip.
5. Keep paying the people who work for you.
If you’re taking self-quarantine seriously, you’ve canceled the piano lessons and sent the housekeeper and the tutors away. But that doesn’t mean you should stop paying them. Venmo is no-contact and germ free. Maybe throw one of those gift certificates their way while you’re at it.
6. Skip the refund.
If you missed a local show that you had tickets for, consider writing it off as a donation instead of asking for your money back. Now’s also a great time to sign up for that membership to your local nonprofit arts association or subscribe to the summer theater series.
7. Schedule a service for later.
Coronavirus has created the ultimate cancel culture, but all those missed reservations and skipped services are stressing out local workers. If you can, schedule work with a cleaner, a painter, a plumber, a contractor or a salon. Simply knowing that work is coming their way can alleviate some anxiety and make a big difference in helping them weather this difficult time.
8. Provide a signal boost.
Give a shout-out to your favorite local businesses by leaving them a stellar review on Yelp, Google, or Facebook — that thing you always meant to do but never had time for. (Thanks, coronavirus!) While you’re at it, follow all your favorite businesses and artists online and share their social media posts. They might have their own ideas for how you can support them. (Indie musician Roxi Copland suggests buying merch online.)
9. Reach out to government leaders to ask for help.
In one of the cities hardest hit so far by the coronavirus, Downtown Seattle Association president Jon Scholes has said, “We need to move quickly at the local, state, and federal level to provide economic relief to the small business and workers who are out of jobs.” To get serious about boosting local businesses through this mess, email your legislator and ask them to help small businesses.
10. Say thanks.
All of us are mega-stressed right now, but local business owners worried about their livelihood have a special level of anxiety. Send a thank you note or an email to let them know that you see them and you're thinking of them. A little compassion and connection right now goes a long way.