It’s like living in a futuristic movie, but without the zombies. What can we say? These are times like no others in recent history. Streets and stores are empty. No people out and about, no money coming into businesses, paying wages, making purchases at other businesses, or contributing to the tax base.
Unfortunately, this is the sad reality of self-isolation. Preventive closures and other COVID-19 measures are good for keeping the virus at bay, but bad for businesses — especially the small “mom and pops.” In spite of efforts to support locals through take-out food, online shopping, gift cards, etc., folks who are laid off, furloughed or working reduced hours can only spend so much of the money that’s coming in before jeopardizing what it takes to pay the bills and the mortgage.
So what can we do? First, don’t automatically head for the big box stores (most are out of the basics anyway). Instead, check out nearby rural grocery stores where you can still find toilet paper, hand sanitizer, bleach, cleaning products and other essentials in stock. And don’t forget your local artisans — they’ve built businesses in your community raising fresh produce, eggs, local meats and dairy products and making soap and other products.
OK, so we may have to drive a little. Bingo! Social isolation field trip — let’s get out of the house, see some countryside and make a positive difference for our local economy, all while keeping a safe distance.
By supporting locals and “hidden” businesses, we keep the money right in our communities. Monies that will come back in the form of paid mortgages, fuel purchased at the gas station, donations to community needs, tips at cafés to help them hold onto their employees, and so on.
We may have to dig a little to find these hidden gems, but it’s worth it. Ask around, find ALL the businesses around town, not just those on the Chamber of Commerce members’ list, and share what you’ve found.
Then make your own list — include a few words about what each does and has — and get it out there for everyone to see. We need to promote ALL local businesses, not just a select few or specific industries, and work with neighboring towns.
There’s no way to know what tomorrow will bring. When the dust settles, some businesses will likely have closed. There may be empty buildings, and perhaps some empty homes as well.
Sadly, the businesses that remain may not have many options for regrowth. Loans aren’t always the answer, and not all businesses will qualify. Even the lowest interest rate may not make going further into debt feasible.
This is where creative financing can come into play. How might local bankers help the community? Can they waive or modify certain requirements to help start-ups?
How can we connect current business owners with possible buyers? If you don’t keep a running list of people who’ve talked about starting a business, now’s the time to start. Can you connect these people to someone who’s considering closing? Or could a business that’s forced to close its doors sell their wares inside a different business? Not everyone will have the assets to start a business, but many will have serious skill sets and the drive to succeed.
So start the conversations now. Pull people together. Ask everyone for ideas. A viable main street attracts more residents and gives current ones reasons to stay.
We NEED to help each and every business in our communities. By helping each other, we will come out the other side of this Different. Better. And Even Stronger.
Find out more about how Tait & Kate help rural people, communities, and businesses thrive in “Tips & Tales” at www.taitandkate.com.