As America hunkers down, small businesses around the country are struggling to make ends meet ― although customers have disappeared, bills and wages have not.
Just how long they will have to scale back operations due to the coronavirus outbreak — whether it’s weeks or months — is unclear. The federal government is trying to pull together a massive $1 trillion stimulus package to aid the economy, which could include loans to small businesses and direct cash infusions, but it’s still unknown how quickly that effort could materialize and at what scale.
For those self-isolating in their homes worried that their favorite local bookstore or coffee house will be decimated by the time it’s safe to resume regular life, or those who want to keep supporting service-oriented workers who can’t simply do their work remotely, there are a few things you can do.
Some small businesses that don’t typically do a lot of online ordering are testing the waters. New York state, for example, is loosening restrictions on alcohol sales so local restaurants, along with breweries and distilleries, can make booze available for curbside pickup or delivery.
While some local restaurants have opted to close their doors to weather the outbreak, a number are still open for takeout and delivery ― even spots that aren’t typically. If you have a solid source of income during this time, it might be worth taking the night off from cooking once in a while to support workers and business owners in your neighborhood who aren’t sure how they’re going to get through the next few months. (For more tips on ordering takeout this days, head here.)
And if you know a favorite local shop that already does ordering through its website, now might be a good time to jump on whatever item you’d had in your sights a few weeks ago.
If you can, keep paying your house cleaner, dog walker, or anyone who depends on regular income from clients like you.
“Your generosity could be a game changer for them right now,” small business owner Liz Pearce told HuffPost. Pearce co-founded Fresh Chalk, a Seattle-based website that allows people to recommend businesses and service providers to others, and has been speaking to other small business owners about measures that would really help them out.
Buy locally whenever possible.
If you’re thinking of stocking up on household staples ― coffee, for example ― pick up those things from local retailers before clearing out the shelves at Whole Foods.
Leave good reviews.
If you are financially unable to keep paying as usual, consider leaving great reviews online for services you’ve used, or refer them to others.
A word of support can also go a long way for stressed-out business owners, said Ricky Klein, who runs Groennfell Meadery in Vermont.
“For those businesses who have already been forced to shutter their doors, please reach out by social media, e-mail, phone call, or whatever mechanism you have to tell them that you support them and when all of this is over, you’ll be there at their door,” Klein told HuffPost. “While cashflow is the byword of small businesses, independent contractors, and the self-employed, it’s hard to overstate how much we rely on your moral support.”
“On our bad days, small business owners usually remember our customers first, and when we believe that we matter to you, it gives us the strength to find another way to keep going.”
Pick up a gift card.
If you keep dreaming of regular life, give your future self a gift to spend at your local salon, barbershop, tattoo parlor, etc.
Gift cards can go toward helping with cash flow in uncertain times.
See if local studios are offering video classes.
Quarantine life can get dull. But some local exercise studios are offering to livestream classes during the time when gathering for hot yoga is a health risk.
“You can also hire a financial planner, therapist, tax accountant, personal trainer, or music teacher right now ― they’re all providing services online,” Pearce said.
And a lot of services are being provided over video chat apps like Zoom these days. As the kids say, Zoom University is open and ready for learning.
Now might be a good time for home projects or repairs.
If you’ve been meaning to put up a fence, do a bit of landscaping, replace some windows or tackle any other project that doesn’t take more than a few people to complete, find a local handyman or service to help.
On-site auto mechanics are also available if you need them. Wrench is one such company that operates in dozens of cities.
Tip extra generously, if you can.
Delivery workers are especially vulnerable to contracting coronavirus, given the nature of their jobs ― which are also grueling and low-paying. If you can afford to tip 40% or even more, delivery workers would appreciate it.
(And if you’re worried you may be sick, definitely do not make the delivery worker come face-to-face with you! Ask them to put the bag on your front doorstep instead.)
It’s also best to order takeout directly from the restaurant, since third-party apps like GrubHub can charge fees that put a squeeze on workers and businesses at a time when no one can afford it.