COVID-19 and the Survival of Small Business: What We Can Do to Help

By Anthony de Freitas Friday, March 12, 2021

Saying that local economies are being strained by the pandemic is an understatement. Businesses have closed temporarily (and sometimes permanently) all across the country, leaving millions of people without jobs. And, many businesses that have been fortunate enough to stay open have still struggled to survive.

Small town shops.

Pandemic Closures for Small Business

While some communities might be home to a large company’s distribution facility, factory, or other facilities, most local economies rely heavily on small businesses. In June of 2020, according to one study, around 43% of small businesses had temporarily closed because of the pandemic. Closures were mostly due to a falloff in demand and to avoid contagion amongst workers. Employment levels fell nationwide. In April 2020, the unemployment rate rose to its highest (14.8%) since record-keeping first began in 1948. By December, unemployment had fallen but still remained elevated at 6.7%. In contrast, during the Great Recession of 2008, unemployment never crossed 10%.

How to Help Small Businesses in Your Community

Here are some of the ways you can help small businesses survive in your community:

Sometimes, it may seem that the best thing we can do for our family is find the cheapest price on a product. It feels good to save money, and it feels like the responsible thing to do. Offering the lowest price is probably the number one thing a company can do to get more customers. Companies like Walmart have built entire advertising campaigns around having the lowest price around. Saving a few bucks might seem like the right choice as a consumer, but this doesn't take into consideration the long-term effects of global capitalism.

If we spend more money on an item locally, we know that money is more likely to stay in our community where it will keep businesses open and storefronts occupied, pay our neighbors’ wages, and increase local tax revenue. Spending money locally means investing in lower crime, better education, and greater health for our communities.

If small businesses shutter, the extra expense in taxes for services will far outreach the extra $0.50 for a gallon of milk. That $0.50 is an investment in the community's well-being.

Buy Local, Safely

Even before the pandemic hit, small businesses everywhere were facing tough competition. Slowly but surely, they were being displaced, first, by nationwide stores, discount retailers, and strip malls. Ecommerce entities are currently displacing small businesses. Many of the small businesses that have been able to survive, and even thrive, are those offering niche products or services.

As a consumer, your buying habits have certainly changed since the pandemic started. Think about where you used to buy your specialty or hard-to-find items. Many of us, even the most dutiful local shoppers, may have stopped frequenting those businesses and turned to the online giants for support.

The good news is that those businesses you used to frequent may have adapted. And, to keep your favorite businesses open and your local economy thriving, you should check back in with them. They may have adapted in ways that make you feel comfortable shopping with them.

Opt for Curbside Pickup Over Delivery

If getting to stores has become more difficult or you don’t feel comfortable shopping inside, opt for delivery from local stores before opting for delivery from online megastores.

But, if you can actually take your body to a store or restaurant to pick up your purchases, you save the business money. This is true whether they have contracts with Shipt or Grubhub, which take a piece of the business’s already small profit margins.

Go Shop in the Store or Restaurant

This one is relatively simple. If shopping is something you feel safe doing, put on a mask, stay six feet apart, and go to the store to buy the things you need.

Most businesses these days are taking precautions such as encouraging social distancing at cash registers, using disinfectant sprays and gels, and limiting the number of people allowed inside at one time.

Visiting the businesses in person also gives you an opportunity to tip workers a bit extra for their service.

Communal Shopping

For some of us, getting to the store between zoom meetings, caring for a four-year-old, and supervising virtual classwork for our school-aged kids might make it a bit difficult to get to the store. Shopping with a mega online store might not be happening out of safety — it might be more of a necessity.

For those of us with limited time, a cooperative shopping situation might be the answer. Each member of the group simply takes a turn shopping for the group each week. This way, not only are you supporting your local businesses, but you are limiting the number of people going in and out of the store without affecting the amount of money being spent.

Buy Local for Food, Toy, and Clothing Drives

It isn’t just businesses that are struggling through the pandemic. More and more people are falling on hard times and looking to charitable community organizations to help meet some of their basic needs. It may be tempting to support the local shelter by buying a variety of $3 microfiber blankets on Amazon, but it will help everyone in your community if you buy those blankets from a local small business.

Leave Customer Reviews

Customer reviews are a powerful tool. And best of all, leaving one is free. Taking the time to write a review for each local store you visit could increase the chances of someone else going there by more than 80%.

You can leave reviews for local businesses on platforms like Google, Yelp, Facebook, and TripAdvisor.

Share on Social Media

Speaking of Facebook, posting about local businesses on your social media pages is a great way to give them some free advertising.

You can follow local businesses and share their posts on your page, or you can create your own posts. Writing about your positive experience with the business or posting photos of you enjoying their products or services can help increase the business’s exposure. This can work for any type of business, but it is often most effective with restaurants.

Offer Your Own Services

Another way to support local small businesses without spending any money yourself is with your time and expertise. This might not be an option for everyone, but if you or your business can afford to do pro-bono work for other businesses, that could help them get through the pandemic until more customers start returning.

This work could include everything from helping with a new advertising campaign to social media consulting or even free labor costs when installing a new air filtration system. And in addition to helping that business out, you’re likely to have a new fan of your business, which might bring you customers in the future.

Support Your Local Community

Small businesses can offer a wide variety of produce and product that large retailers lack. The “big box” stores with many branches tend to adopt a “cost leadership” strategy that focuses on competitive pricing.

But, price is not all customers care about. Local retailers are well-positioned to offer unique products. They can source locally produced items from local manufacturers, artisans, and craftsmen. Such diversity of products catalyzes differentiation in other areas and spurs overall innovation. Convenience, customer service, and variety can transform the shopping experience from a chore into a delight, all while helping local businesses and the community stay healthy.

About the Author

Headshot of Anthony de Freitas

Anthony is the owner of Kip Art Gifts, an ecommerce store that specializes in art-inspired jewelry, fashion accessories and other objects. Previously, he worked as an accountant and financial analyst. He enjoys writing on small business, financial intermediation and economics. Anthony was educated at Wilson’s School and the London School of Economics and Political Science.

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