Stores may be closed and you may be self-isolating, but you can still support local business from home. Here’s how.

By Maggie Seaver
March 25, 2020

As the novel coronavirus continues to spread throughout the U.S., public and local health authorities are encouraging citizens to avoid gathering in large groups for at least eight weeks, and urging retailers and restaurants to either close or consolidate their offerings. Hundreds of schools have closed temporarily, and companies across all industries have asked their office employees to work remotely for the foreseeable future. Streets are quiet and, sadly, independent businesses are already taking a hit.

"Small businesses run on slim margins and tight budgets—today's sales help pay tomorrow's rent," says Ann Cantrell, owner of Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store in Brooklyn, N.Y"Small businesses are the lifeblood of a community, they add to the diversity and the flavor of the neighborhood. Some businesses can’t survive a week without being open, let alone a month or longer, as some estimates are saying." Cantrell adds that many businesses owners fear that once they close, they may never reopen.

These rigid cancellations and social distancing precautions are, of course, for everyone’s personal safety—to help curb the rate of COVID-19 cases—but they’re undeniably taking a toll on local economies across the country. 

The right thing to do is listen to local and national health officials’ recommendations and continue practicing responsible social distancing, hand-washing, and avoiding touching your face and physical contact with anyone who's sick.

However, that doesn’t mean you should stop supporting local shops, restaurants, bakeries, and institutions while working from home or sitting on the couch. You (and the local economy) rely on independent purveyors every day—and now their livelihoods rely on you for continued support. And not just for themselves and their storefronts, but for their families, employees, and clients, and wholesalers.

"[Small businesses] need cash to cover employees' salaries, health care, countless bills, and more," Cantrell adds. "Plus, so many jobs in the community are tied back to small businesses, so our whole ecosystem could be in jeopardy."

Here are some easy and creative ways to help your hometown businesses stay afloat during this unprecedented and uncertain time.

1
Browse Social Media for Specific Ideas in Your Locality

Does your town or city (or favorite store) have an official Twitter, Facebook, and/or Instagram account? Check right now. It may be a one-stop shop where local workers and businesses are posting ideas and rallying for support. For example, St. Louis magazine shares that The Women’s Creative and Experience Booklet partnered with the St. Louis official instagram account to create a new hashtag (#314together) and Facebook group where small business owners can spread the word about the best ways to support them.

2
Buy Merch Online

Most restaurants, in addition to brick-and-mortar stores, have an online presence with more than just reservation bookings and menu previews. Poke around to see if you can chip in and buy some ecommerce swag—hats, T-shirts, tote bags, mugs, you name it. The New Yorker contributing food correspondent Helen Rosner has the right idea. She’s added a highlight, stories, and in-feed posts on her Instagram profile featuring local restaurants’ merchandise from all around the country you can shop right now. (Check her out @helenr on Instagram, if you want ideas for how to help.)

3
Purchase Gift Cards for Future Shopping

This is one of the most straightforward ways to provide small businesses with an immediate source of revenue, even while social distancing. While it’s your prerogative to avoid public places by halting your usual in-person shopping and appointments, purchase a gift card or gift certificate you can use later. This goes for any retailer or service that offers gift cards—particularly online. Beauty salons, restaurants, bakeries, coffee shops, toy stores, gift shops, fitness classes, and beyond.

"Things like placing online orders and buying gift cards to redeem later are all helpful to keep cashflow up," Cantrell reassures us. Even better? Buy online gift cards and email them to friends for a small pick-me-up. It’ll be a little something to look forward to when all the craziness dies down again.

4
Pay Now, Go Later

If you or your family participates in weekly extracurricular activities—like dance, tutoring, martial arts, music, or swimming lessons—see if you can pay for future sessions now (if it’s feasible with your budget, of course) in exchange for credits later.

5
Take Advantage of Digital Payment Methods

In the same vein, text or email your go-to hairstylist, trainer, yoga instructor, or nail technician to ask if they’re on Venmo or another payment-sharing app. Book out future appointments now and pay for them in advance—all without risking in-person contact.

6
Consider Small Specialty or General Stores for Some Shopping Needs

Stock up on a few toiletries at a family-owned pharmacy, shop for essentials at the general store on the corner, and so on. We know they can be more expensive, but why not purchase a few things there? Shoot for pantry staples that last a while like maple syrup, olive oil and vinegar, and jams.

RELATED: 10 Healthy Pantry Essentials You Should Always Have on Hand, According to RDs

7
Don’t Assume They’re Closed

Call your favorite local spots or check their websites to see if they’re still open. Many places are offering to accept payment by phone or online, and then bring the goods out to your car for you. As long as you practice good hygiene and stay responsible, this is a great workaround for shopping at your local deli, bakery, or coffee shop, for example.

8
Order Food for Delivery or Pickup

Similarly, remember that many restaurants and food options still remain open for takeout and delivery, despite temporarily pressing pause on dining room service. Online food-ordering services like Seamless and Grubhub are making delivery from local spots easy on customers while keeping restaurant partners and their employees in business. Seamless, for example, has pledged to defer commission fees for impacted eateries to increase their cash flow immediately, match all promotions to help double restaurants’ investments, and offer “contact-free” delivery at checkout on the website and mobile app (deliverers will call or text when they arrive and drop your order in the lobby or on your doorstep).

Seamless and Grubhub have also created relief funds “to provide additional financial relief for our drivers and restaurants…,” Seamless announced in an email press release. “With this fund, all of your Donate the Change contributions will go to charitable organizations that support drivers and restaurants impacted by the coronavirus outbreak.” So, yes, ordering ramen from the couch does more than you think!

RELATED: 7 Safe, Smart, Sanitary Habits to Use When Ordering Takeout and Delivery

9
Donate Locally Via GoFundMe

Visit GoFundMe, which has a designated landing page aggregating local COVID-19 fundraisers in support of small businesses around the U.S. Restaurant groups and independent business owners from coast to coast have set up relief funds to keep their institutions alive and their many employees, clients, and purveyors paid. It's one of the best ways to find and support shops and eateries in your area, or donate anywhere affected by coronavirus.

10
Spread the Word on Social Media, Too

Share on your Instagram story or Facebook feed which retailers and restaurants you’re shopping or donating to to encourage friends, family, and any fringe followers to do the same. "Even if you don’t have any money of your own right now, moral support goes a long way at the moment, [by way of] social media comments, for instance," Cantrell says. It may not pay the bills, but it means a lot to these hardworking business owners and employees right now.

RELATED: 7 Ways You Can Help Others During the Coronavirus Crisis

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