With the current pandemic, many are left worried about what their future holds. More specifically, local businesses are taking a big hit from social distancing—a policy of avoiding gatherings as a way of containing the spread of the virus.
To promote social distancing, Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered that all restaurants and bars will be limited to takeout and delivery through April 6. Not only is this option not economically feasible for businesses that rely on foot traffic, but it is also difficult to transition to for new restaurant owners. And it’s not only the restaurants that are closing; the entertainment industry, and even the nonprofit sector is suffering.
So, what can you do? Scout caught up with Theodora Skedas, the executive director of the small business boosting nonprofit Cambridge Local First, and Aaron Cohen, owner of Gracie’s Ice Cream in Somerville, to discuss how people can help local businesses during a time of social distancing.
Shop locally, but virtually. This is Skedas’s main advice for local consumers. “Please make a conscious choice to order from local and independent businesses,” she says, as opposed to ordering from Amazon. Many businesses, like Porter Square Books, are encouraging isolation by selling merchandise virtually and even offering free delivery.
Buy gift cards for later use. “A lot of people are talking about gift cards, and that’s a good way [to show your support],” says Cohen, who has closed his ice cream sales—including delivery—but is still selling gift cards.
Buy merchandise or other items sold online. “I think that actually a better way to help businesses immediately is to buy t-shirts, sweatshirts, or other merchandise that they have,” Cohen says. He advises–if possible–buying merchandise over gift cards because “gift card purchases are not technically cash you can use right away. … But if you buy a t-shirt, then that money goes right to the business.” Skedas echoes that statement, but says that any consumption is recommended, “whether that be virtual takeout, gift cards, or online merchandise consumption.”
Donate to pools that help staff members. When asked what’s the best way to support your local businesses, Cohen’s first suggestion was to raise money for staff members. “That’s probably the best way to do it,” he says. “I know that there’s a couple of businesses who have set up a Venmo for their staff.” Veggie Galaxy is even donating 100 percent of their gift card proceeds to help their staff, most of whom are hourly workers relying on tips for their income.
Tip your delivery drivers. This is something to keep in mind whenever you are ordering food—not just during a pandemic. But remember that they are doing their best during an extremely stressful time. There are many ways to ensure you receive your food deliveries safely, but remember that drivers are concerned about their health, too. Cohen says to give “tips to anyone who is still working and try to be considerate.”
Promote businesses and their updates on social media. With everything moving so quickly, and businesses making snap decisions to protect their staff and customers, it is essential to share the messages that they release online. Cohen makes the point that if a business “decides to go to delivery all of a sudden, getting that message out is a good way to get orders.” The most effective way to do this is to share posts made by your favorite local businesses on social media.
Keep yourself informed using local sources. Skedas encourages people to check out the Cambridge Local First website. Out of the six business associations in Cambridge, their website is “the only one that focuses on local businesses and is citywide,” she says. One page, in particular, offers a variety of helpful COVID-19 related sources, and tracks which local businesses remain open so that people can have a better idea of where to order. (We’re biased, but another great option for getting up-to-date information is by checking out local media outlets like Scout Cambridge, too!)
Be patient with local businesses. Everyone is going through this together and doing their best. “Just be a little bit more patient with businesses that do decide to stay open,” says Cohen. “If you go to someplace that said they were going to be open and they’re closed, it doesn’t make sense to blast them or to give them a negative Yelp review.”
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