COVID-19 resources

How to Support Small Businesses While Social Distancing

Ways you can support local and other small businesses while social distancing.
Andrea Reiher, Writer

As we all stay home to practice social distancing, local shops are feeling the impact of reduced business. Locally owned businesses are the lifeblood of communities, and they often give neighborhoods their unique character and sense of community.

With the necessary practice of social distancing in place right now, it can be difficult to know how to support local businesses. Here are a few things you can do.

Purchase gift cards from your favorite places

One of the biggest ways that we can help the bars, restaurants, stores, and entertainment venues that have had to temporarily close across the country is by purchasing gift cards. As an example, a group called Cedar Valley Strong was founded to help the communities of Cedar Falls and Waterloo, Iowa, support their thriving downtown areas by giving local customers a central location in which to help. The organization set up a website and a Facebook page listing all the local businesses that need cash flow.

“Gift cards equal immediate cash flow. And cash flow is the lifeblood of our local businesses,” Cedar Valley Strong says on its website. “Let’s take care of each other. Our small businesses need us now more than ever.”

Another idea Cedar Valley Strong has been working on is finding a way to get gift cards into the hands of local families in need. There are always families in need, but at this time especially, any extra assistance helps. Cedar Valley Strong is looking into partnering with the Northeast Iowa Food Bank to distribute gift cards for local businesses to families who come to the food bank.

Gift cards give purchasers something to look forward to once the danger (and social distancing) has passed. So if you need a resource to help you find local businesses to support, try Square’s Give and Get Local directory, which is searchable by city.

Shop online (for yourself or others)

While many businesses have closed their physical locations to customers, they are still able to offer a variety of online options. If you have a favorite local retailer, consider shopping on its website for things you might need right now, from household goods to ways to entertain your children who are not currently in school.

Even if your favorite businesses haven’t typically offered online services, curbside service, or deliveries in the past, they might be adopting these services as part of their compliance with local stay-at-home orders. Check their social media accounts, recent emails, or website to find out if they’ve added new ways to shop with them.

If you don’t find yourself personally in need of anything from your favorite local businesses, consider using small businesses to put together care packages for local healthcare workers. Or maybe you know of a friend or family member who lives alone and might be cheered up by a thoughtful gift.

Order takeout food or drinks

A lot of local restaurants are still offering pickup and delivery orders during this stay-at-home time. You can only cook so many meals before you need a break, so when that time does come, call around to your favorite local restaurants to see what they have available. Or use their app or website to order online.

If you have a favorite local watering hole, ask about purchasing unopened beer, wine, or spirits. Every state is different in this regard, but many states are letting bars sell their unopened inventory, which could be a great way to enjoy your favorite alcoholic beverages and support a local business at the same time.

If you’re worried about the health and safety of getting curbside orders, check in with the business first. To find recent announcements and changes to service, check social media or a business’s website to learn about the extra steps it’s taking to ensure cleanliness and safety on delivery and pickup orders.

Organize a virtual fundraiser for your Main Street

Some communities are holding fundraisers for their local businesses. In Washington, PA, for example, local screen printing company BeeGraphix organized a T-shirt fundraiser selling $24 shirts that have the message “Small Towns, Big Hearts” on them. Five dollars of the price goes to BeeGraphix workers and $10 goes to the other small businesses that sign up for the promotion; the remaining money covers the overhead.

If you want to support your town’s small businesses, organizing a fundraiser or even just assembling the information for how customers can buy gift cards for their favorite stores and restaurants, as Cedar Valley Strong did, could make a huge difference.

Also, just because people are distancing themselves in person doesn’t mean we can’t all be social online. In fact, it’s a key way to help local businesses. Promote your favorite businesses on your personal Twitter, Instagram, Facebook page, etc. Friends who live near you might not be aware of which local businesses are in need of help, plus online friends might want to help out from afar.

Share helpful resources for small business owners

The U.S. Small Business Administration is offering several lifelines to business owners, so if you know a business owner, make sure they know about the different avenues of relief that are available. Learn more about what resources are available federally and statewide.

Andrea is a freelance journalist covering eCommerce branding, holiday shopping, and how experiential retail and experiential gifts are becoming increasingly popular.