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How to (Still) Shop Locally

Apr. 8, 2020Small businesses are the lifeblood of our local economy. With communities on lockdown across the country, they need our support more than ever. Here’s how you can help.



Beyond personal worries about staying well in social isolation, a lot of people are concerned about either their own job or how to support those whose livelihoods have already been affected by Covid-19. How do you help keep local businesses alive when most are closed or you’re not allowed to visit them in person? In the face of a global pandemic, is it really that helpful to buy… gift cards? We have the (somewhat lengthy) answer to that! Here are the most effective ways to pitch in to your community. 

#1 — Buy a Gift Card

A lot of businesses are straining to manage their own crises right now, and gift cards don’t require immediate action on their part, like producing and shipping products. Help Main Street is a handy crowdsourced tool that shows local businesses offering gift cards all over the U.S. “If you do buy a gift card, keep in mind that some businesses don’t count gift cards as revenue until after they’re used,” says Matt Wagner, vice president of revitalization programs at Main Street America (no relation to Help Main Street). Be mindful of when you cash it in, too — until things start returning to normal, and for a while after, businesses may struggle to keep up with demands. 

“If you do buy a gift card, keep in mind that some businesses don’t count gift cards as revenue until after they’re used.”

#2 — Get Takeout or Delivery

If a restaurant is still open for delivery or takeout, ordering is a great way to help their bottom line. But there are a few ways to make sure you’re doing it right. Try to avoid third-party delivery platforms, which take a cut from restaurants’ profits. Give special delivery discounts the side-eye — that’s probably coming at additional cost to businesses. And while it’s important to support delivery workers as well, they’re often treated and paid badly by third-party platforms, most of which aren’t providing them necessary protective items like hand sanitizer, gloves, and masks. The most consistently humane option at the end of the day: call the restaurant and pick it up yourself or see if they do delivery without a middleman. Make sure the restaurant takes your payment info by phone (one less thing for them to handle when you pick up your food!) and tip generously.

#3 — Buy Actual Stuff (and Tell Your Friends)

We know, it’s a little stressful figuring out exactly how individual businesses want you to help them right now. So let them tell you how. It’s an ideal time to follow your favorite stores and restaurants’ social media accounts. Keep an eye out for creative ways they’re responding to the crisis — maybe your local yoga studio is livestreaming classes, or a farm is offering subscription produce boxes. A lot of restaurants and stores are pushing merch like T-shirts or inventory like bottles of wine, because it relieves them of stuff that’s harder to move without in-person visits. Keep an eye out for authors with new books coming out right now, too. They’re feeling the squeeze too, and a great way to help is to buy their book from an independent bookstore (find ones in your area here). Relatedly, if you’re considering buying anything from Amazon, ask yourself if there’s a local business you could order from instead; lots of places are offering delivery and curbside pickup.

Whenever you do find helpful ways to buy from local businesses, tell your friends. It never hurts to leave a nice review on Yelp or share it on your Instagram story.

#4 — Relief Funds and Donations

Even with support from their communities, businesses still have to meet major costs like rent on a normal basis, and most will inevitably be making a lot less money than normal. While individual purchases are appreciated, they’re still drops in the bucket and may not always be enough to stem the impact. To make a more significant contribution, look for crowdfunding and microloan programs or relief funds. Popular platforms like GoFundMe and Kiva are expanding their support of small businesses with things like matching grants or more flexible rules for loans. Wagner also suggests looking to your local chamber of commerce, Main Street program, or Business Improvement District website, which should point out plenty of ways to help where you are. There are also plenty of robust lists of national and local relief funds for the food industry and hospitality industry

 

#5 — Advocacy

As with many things in life, one of the most effective things to do when you’re feeling helpless is to advocate for change. Small businesses and their employees need big things to survive, just like a lot of others right now: federal loans, rent abatement or deferral, humane health insurance options, unemployment benefits. And there are plenty of helpful groups who can tell you exactly what you need to call your representatives about right now. “Organizations like NFIB [the National Federation of Independent Business] and Small Business Majority are advocating to ensure financial support is available to small businesses and nonprofits during the Covid-19 crisis,” Wagner says. “Check their websites for action alerts, sign-on letters to Congress, and opportunities to contact your elected officials to voice your support of small businesses.”

“Check their websites for action alerts, sign-on letters to Congress, and opportunities to contact your elected officials to voice your support of small businesses.”

 

How are you supporting local businesses in your area? Share with us on and our community at @AvocadoMattress using #AvocadoGreenLiving

Erin Berger

By Erin Berger

 —  Erin Berger is a freelance writer and former culture editor at Outside magazine. She’s based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she skis, bikes, and hikes. She has a puppy named Henry.

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