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Tips on how to support small independent local businesses through a pandemic

Wondering how you can help as a consumer? Here are some ideas.

Tips on how to support small independent local businesses through a pandemic

Here are some ways to support your local small businesses (Art: Jason Logan/ The New York Times)

In the early weeks of the coronavirus pandemic, consumers buoyed small businesses with gift card purchases and online fundraising campaigns. But as the pandemic persisted and restrictions constrained operating hours, many independent businesses continued to struggle.

Throughout the country, owners have creatively come up with strategies to keep businesses afloat, which benefits consumers, proprietors and a neighbourhood’s commercial health

“There’s a multiplier effect,” said Bill Brunelle, the managing partner of Independent We Stand, an organization that helps its small-business members with marketing. “If you buy at a hardware store, that owner may hire a local accountant, while the employees may go to local restaurants and other nearby stores. The success of one business can steamroll through the economy.”

Ande Breunig, a real estate agent in Evanston, Illinois, said, “Everyone complains about the lack of retailing, but we can only keep these businesses afloat with our participation.” Breunig started a Facebook group hoping to motivate residents to increase their support of local shops and services.

So how can consumers contribute to this virtuous cycle, especially during the all-important holiday season? Here are some tips to consider.

Buy Local

Before you reflexively hit “place order” with an e-commerce behemoth, find out whether a local retailer offers the same item. Independent bookstores, for example, can often order and quickly receive your selection. While you can get many things online, “go for a walk, go into a store, keep your mask on and shop,” said Ellen Baer, the president and chief executive of the Hudson Square Business Improvement District. “Think of the people on the other end of the purchase.”

When sending gifts to out-of-town friends and family, look for independent stores in their towns. And don’t assume that an e-commerce site can out-deliver a local business – even online sites have experienced delays because of the pandemic’s supply-chain disruption.

Be Social

Help bolster a business’ social media presence by “liking” hardware stores, dry cleaners and other independent shops on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. Write positive reviews, post photos generously of purchases, and don’t forget to tag the businesses.

Retailers are savvy when it comes to selling, but many don’t fully understand that social media plays a crucial role, Breunig said. Through her Facebook group, she started an “adopt a shop” effort, in which residents select a store and commit to shopping there once a week (with no spending minimum) and posting about their experiences on Facebook.

Beyond Charity

You can double the effect of philanthropic efforts by involving small businesses whenever possible. Order meals for essential workers from independent restaurants. Shop local when buying for clothing drives. And even if it’s a bit more expensive, purchase from local markets for food drives.

Loyalty Counts

Service businesses – including personal trainers and hair salons – have especially been affected by the pandemic since they are among the trickiest to reopen. Gift cards help, but so does generous tipping for the ones that are open. And remember that small businesses rely on regular customers, even as they try to attract new ones.

Accept the Rack Rate

Everyone loves a discount, but perhaps now is not the time. If you can afford it, pay full price.

Offer Your Skills

If you’re an accountant, a lawyer, a banker, or a digital marketing specialist, to name just a few, local businesses may welcome your help. Kimberly Pardiwala, for example, who most recently led a business that arranged group sales for Broadway shows, grew concerned that restaurants would again suffer with the onset of cold weather. The Larchmont, New York, resident approached David Masliah, the owner of the town’s popular Encore Bistro to order prix fixe dinners regularly for her neighbourhood association. “We are all so separate now, so it’s important to restore our community,” she said.

Practice Kindness

Proprietors are under enormous, sometimes existential, pressure right now, so share emotional support when you can. Ask retailers how they are holding up and inquire about employees who may now be unemployed.

By Ellen Rosen © The New York Times