March 24, 2020

Spend Local Safely: Five Ways You Can Support Your Main Street Businesses During the Coronavirus

Main Street, Wheeling, West Virginia

photo by: Ben Muldrow

Main Street in Wheeling, West Virginia before the coronavirus outbreak.

The new coronavirus is first and foremost a threat to the health of millions of Americans. Thousands of suspected cases have been confirmed with countless others yet to be tested, putting an unprecedented strain on health care professionals and hospitals.

But the effects of COVID-19 are being felt just as acutely by small businesses. Across the country, main street corridors packed with historic buildings stand silent, as the customers who typically flock to these places wisely stay home. The results are exactly what you’d expect: Without their primary source of revenue, local shops and businesses must make difficult decisions about whether to lay off workers, or even close permanently.

The National Trust's Main Street America program is seeking to minimize the blow by guiding Main Street communities through the crisis. “The impact of COVID-19 on small businesses and local economies is already significant and appears likely to become even more extensive,” says Matthew Wagner, vice president of revitalization programs at Main Street America.

Why is it important to save America’s main streets? Because in times of crisis, we look to our communities to weather the storm. We lift up our neighbors who have lost their jobs and lean on each other to keep ourselves mentally and emotionally upright. And the assistance we provide now will determine what our main streets look like when this storm passes.

“Small businesses fuel our communities, downtowns, and neighborhood business districts with jobs, products, and services, and as important places for social engagement,” says Wagner. “Seemingly small steps can make a big impact and help businesses continue to be a part of our communities in the months and years to come.”

Your favorite local coffee shops, bookstores, and breweries need your support now more than ever. Here are five ways you can help them out without risking the health of you and your loved ones.

Union Block - Mount Pleasant, IA

photo by: Main Street Mount Pleasant

The Union Block in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, one of the Partners in Preservation: Main Streets winners in 2019.

1. Buy gift cards

Buying a gift card is a fantastic way to show a small business owner you care. Consider it an investment in a special shop or restaurant’s future. If you’re a loyal customer of the diner down the street that’s closed indefinitely, recognize that it may not reopen if it cannot support itself financially throughout this pandemic. Why not buy a gift card to make sure it stays around? The business gets the money it needs now, and you get the satisfaction of knowing you helped keep the lights on when you’re back inside, enjoying a steaming cup of coffee. The nonprofit Downtown Laramie in Laramie, Wyoming, is even holding a gift card challenge, in which every purchase of a $20 gift card or greater enters the purchaser into a weekly drawing.

2. Shop online or over the phone

Of course, that diner down the street may still be open for takeout or delivery! Give it a call or place an order online. And it’s not just restaurants that are still selling—many small businesses are making their products available for purchase in some way.

Keep in mind that not every business needs the same thing or can offer the same options. For example, a hairdresser cannot set up an online store, but perhaps she plans to live-stream a styling demonstration and ask for donations. This varies on a case-by-case basis—find out what your local businesses are doing and see what you can do to help.

3. Maintain subscriptions

Sometimes the most important thing you can do is nothing. Keeping your regular subscriptions to magazines, arts and crafts boxes, or beauty products will make a world of difference to those companies and organizations. A regular cash flow gives them the certainty they need to limit drastic action. And reconsider unsubscribing from that email list, even if you’d rather be getting only the latest COVID-19 information—if and when the business reopens, they’ll want to be able to reach you!

Alberta Main Street in Portland, Oregon.

photo by: Naim Hasan Photography

Alberta Street, one of Portland, Oregon's principal corridors.

4. Promote on social media

Spending money isn’t the only way to help save your main street. People are using social media as a means of communicating and connecting with each other more than ever before. Sharing a store’s Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter posts gets the message out that the business is still open, or active in some form.

5. Get creative

Put together a directory of all the nearby businesses with online shopping platforms and share it with everyone you know. Start a GoFundMe for a particularly hard-hit shop owner. Organize a review-writing club with your friends or family to give local restaurants a more positive online presence.

Meanwhile, businesses are thinking outside the box, too. The John Emerald Distilling Co. in downtown Opelika, Alabama, is using their product to make free hand sanitizer. New York-based grocery chain DeCicco & Sons is reserving 30 minutes every day for senior citizens and immunocompromised individuals to shop safely.

The possibilities are limitless. It’s on all of us to keep local business alive in these trying times, and every contribution helps, no matter how small.

Check out the full list of Main Street COVID-19 resources here. To show your support for Main Streets and local businesses on social download our shareable graphic, located in our download center. Remember to use the hashtag #ShopLocalSafely in your posts.

Nicholas Som is an assistant editor at Preservation magazine. He enjoys museums of all kinds, Philadelphia sports, and tracking down great restaurants.

nsom@savingplaces.org

Join us for PastForward Online 2020, the historic preservation event of the year, October 27-30, 2020.

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