How to Support Small Businesses During The Pandemic

Photographed by Beth Sacca.
If you, like most of us, are staying home to prevent the spread of coronavirus, it can be hard not to feel helpless, especially since it seems like each day the circumstances surrounding the pandemic are becoming more and more grim. Outside of those who are becoming seriously ill, the situation is already severely impacting service and independent workers in addition to small businesses including shops and fashion brands. With governmental restrictions growing, more brands are being forced to close their storefronts, causing more people to lose jobs and money. And while the situation is taking a real toll on global businesses, these measures are absolutely necessary in order to halt the spread of COVID-19. But there are still things you can do to support local businesses, especially when we live in the age of shopping online.
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As the owner of Philadelphia’s multi-purpose shop YOWIE, Shannon Maldonado says that since closing the retail space a few days ago, sales have been much lower, but she is actively working to update the store’s webshop in order to hopefully fuel a boost in sales. “I feel both privileged to own a small business and terrified of what this pandemic will do as we still operate on a very small scale where every sale counts,” she says. People’s buying behavior is also shifting — instead of buying up the store’s limited edition t-shirts and home goods, consumers are opting for accessories like puzzles to pass the time and local snacks from its pantry section.
Maresa Ponitch opened her vintage retailer Dusty Rose Vintage in 2008 during the recession. While her physical space, Dusty & Friends, was still open last week, there was a huge drop-off in sales. “Financially, there isn’t much we can do if people stop buying,” she says. “We are a very community-oriented business and our community is full of folks impacted by hits to the service and event industries.” As a company, she’s doing her best to reach people online and offer products people might want most at this time, i.e. things that are cozy. Pontich thinks people might assume that all small businesses will qualify for governmental assistance but that many aren’t eligible or benefit from the type of support offered.
Austin-based apparel brand and storefront Esby Apparel is experiencing a major hit both in person and online, especially since South By Southwest was cancelled this year (the event is said to amass over 150,000 people annually). “I have a small team to support and it’s scary to think we may be forced to shut down our shop and alter our usual plans due to this virus,” the brand’s founder Stephanie Beard tells Refinery29. “For now, we are focusing our efforts on our website, so customers can easily shop from home.” When customers are shopping, Beard has noticed that they are spending less than they usually would and opting for more “supportive purchases” of smaller, lower-priced items.
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“When the crisis first hit New York, we saw an immediate 50% dip in sales across all three of our stores, and this continues to rapidly decline,” says Liz Power, owner of Brooklyn’s Awoke Vintage. “We're so fortunate that our customers are loyal and supportive and that our Instagram sales have been rapidly increasing.” In an Instagram post, the company shared that while their three storefronts are now closed, its hourly staff will still be paid and 100% of e-gift card sales will go towards payroll.
“As a small business without people walking into the store we will not be able to pay rent or other essential small business costs,” says Walk the West owner Clotilde Testa. While she says it’s going to be a difficult few months, her company has applied for more information about small business loans support from the New York City government. 
Then there’s The Consistency Project, which only opened in December 2019 and was just starting to hit its groove earlier this month. “Being only three months old it was already an uphill battle to get the shop and team in a great spot so this past week has really felt like we were pushed back down a hill only to figure out how to climb back up,” says owner Natasha Halesworth. “What keeps me up at night is not just making ends meet for the business and my family but actually having the livelihood of others, my team, in my hands.” 
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So how can you support small businesses during these difficult times? Ponitch says if you’re in a stable position to keep shopping. She’s also offering consulting sessions via phone/FaceTime/Skype for clients who are looking for styling assistance or interested in learning how to scale a vintage business. Though it might feel like a weird time to shop right now, Maldonado says to try and understand that it’s also a weird time for businesses to be attempting to sell things but that your purchases are supporting small businesses and not big corporations (who likely have resources/funds in place for circumstances like this). 
“We need your support everyday but we need it now more than ever!” Power adds, “Fashion and shopping are not just about clothes, it's people's businesses, jobs and livelihoods. It's our customers' identity, self-expression and self-esteem, all of which arguably feel more important during a crisis in which people are feeling unsettled. Or at the very least provide some much-needed relief from the tension!”
Beard is asking her followers to shop her brand’s new spring arrivals and/or sales section. “If you don't see something you like right now, or your size is out of stock, please consider purchasing a gift card to use on a future item.” 
While there’s a lot of content circulating about COVID-19 right now, social media is the perfect tool for supporting small businesses; shop Instagram sales, buy gift cards, like and comment on brand content, share about your favorite purchases online and plug the ones that need more support. You can even leave a positive Yelp review or Google. “Let the folks you appreciate know,” Ponitch says. “Sometimes just knowing that people do recognize your contribution to your community gives a little extra boost.”
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“If people continue to spend money towards ALL small and local businesses this will inadvertently support our business,” Halesworth explains. “At this time it is not just about us. If we survive but all the other small businesses don’t, that is still not good for us as many will lose their jobs, therefore have no money to live, let alone spend on clothing.” Now more than ever, small brands and businesses need our support. So if you have the funds, go ahead and get online shopping.
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.
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