Our latest free download to support you during this time is Shop Small! Long the tagline for Small Business Saturday (the Saturday after Thanksgiving), it’s even more appropriate now.
So I wanted to share some ways I have been trying to help small businesses and support my local community during this time. I got a negative message after my post last week on how I was feeling and what I was doing during this crisis to support others. This is a positive, happy place and I’m certainly not one to get into it with readers but I did want to share some thoughts on what I’m doing and what you can do, if you’re so inclined, to help out during this time.
I am in a rural state (Vermont) whose primary business is tourism. We don’t have big chain stores, billboards, or much fast food. So I shared how I was trying to support local business. In a state like ours, our hospitals are actually not in crisis. We’ve passed our peak with few cases, our hospitals are not strained and, thanks in part to a lot of crafters and small shops, masks are readily available. It’s only because we’re isolated and rural, it’s nothing Vermonters have done right or wrong, social distance is sort of a part of our everyday life anyway. But I wanted to share some local stories that have really inspired me to try to think of ways I can be of service to my neighbors in need, because small business in my state is in dire straits.
I had a hair appointment right before the quarantine started, and my hairdresser said “I only have enough money to pay my employees and stay afloat for one month while being closed. I’m so scared and worried for my business.” She has girls (and guys) with families who rely on her doors being open for their livelihood. Well, guess what? It’s been over a month. Still closed. And when they turn the spigot gently, guess what? Hairdressers and nail salons, because of their close contact, are going to be at the bottom of the list. So I thought well, I could call her and pay in advance for my appointments, give her something that she can pass along during this time to ensure that her doors can open back up when this is all over. Why wouldn’t I?
If you’ve ever had the good luck to visit Vermont, you’ll know that we don’t really have hotel chains here either. All of our lodging is mostly inns and BnBs. Imagine if your whole livelihood is based on a constant stream of guests and bookings, this is how you feed your family, and all of a sudden, with no warning, airbnb blacks out your calendar entirely. Well, this is what happened in Vermont. I saw a post from friends who run an airbnb here in a panic because their calendar was blacked out. No one can future book, no one can pay a deposit or make a reservation. So you rely on a booked guest calendar, and suddenly you have nothing. Once again, how do these people feed their families and pay their mortgage? They also brew maple syrup, so I messaged and said “Send me what you have that you want to get rid of. Save the good stuff for someone else.” Now I agree this is no bold, selfless gesture for sure, but it’s money in their pockets right away. The unemployment websites are breaking down, the checks aren’t getting mailed (and God forbid you moved between last tax year and now, additional delays in your government check), and meanwhile bills are piling up. It’s a terrifying time for people in so many ways, and even people who are healthy and isolated are suffering financially.
I don’t leave the house because my husband is at risk. Not everyone observes social distancing at grocery stores and I’m scared to go, afraid of what I’ll bring home to him. So I thought, who can I ask to go for me, so that I can stay safe and put extra money in someone’s pocket? How about the mother of 3, one in college, who has had her housecleaning bookings cancelled because no one wants someone else in their house? She now knows she can rely on us every week to pay her what she would ordinarily be making, and she does her own grocery shopping at the same time. It’s super small, but it’s something consistent she can rely on during this time when all of a sudden her calendar is nothing but a string of cancellations. And she is young and healthy and said she loves getting out of the house for a bit!
I understand the health crisis, the fear and the uncertainty. But I also understand, in a way that is more close to home, the economic devastation this can bring to small businesses, mom and pop restaurants and those who rely on close contact operations for their business. Big cities are devastated but chains and huge companies have resources to support their employees. We have none of that here. At least 50% of the people I know are small business owners or employees. Maybe I should be sending money to New York, or trying my hand at making masks. But I can’t look into the eyes of people I actually know and see the fear and uncertainty that an empty calendar and an empty cart bring. So I just wanted to share some of the things I have come up with (and there are lots, every week I’m making a list of where I see the most need around me) that maybe you might see in your community too. We are America, we will rise up, we will persevere. I’m certain of it! But in the meantime, we can also think of our small business brothers and sisters. Instead of a big chain grocery store, maybe there’s a local farmer’s market doing curbside. Instead of searching out everything on Amazon, maybe there’s an Etsy shop selling what you need. Instead of national chain restaurants, maybe there’s that little hole in the wall you’ve been meaning to try. I love that in America we can do what we want, spend where we want and have the complete freedom to do either, and I give everyone during this crisis the right to do whatever the heck they want, you’ve got to do what gets you through! I withhold judgment.
I saw an instagram post from a woman who owns a shop in Stowe, Vermont. It sells luxury tea towels and handmade pottery, that type of thing. So you might think oh, this is a luxury business in an isolated town, who cares? But she wrote “Every online order, phone order, text order has helped tremendously. We can’t thank you enough for your support of our small business in this time. I certainly didn’t think I’d be placing any orders during this difficult time, but I have!” She has. Because people might not need a luxury tea towel right now (or maybe they do who knows lol!), but they’re buying them anyway. To help her. It works, it really does.
The media panics us and can drive us to terror and nastiness. We have a culture of public shame now that is acceptable. I’ve always found that the bold public gesture is sometimes less meaningful or helpful to us regular folk, so I’m taking the time to look around my own personal community to see who I can help and how. I hope this gives you some good ideas of what you can do close to home so we can emerge from this stronger than ever. Stay hopeful! Stay strong! Shop Small!