Just the other day, I was at a local meat market, Thomas Meat and Seafood, in Collierville, TN. As I shopped, Chris Hughes, the store proprietor, rolled out a cart from the back and started handing out items, such as meat and beans, to customers – of which several he knew by name, recognizing them even behind their mask in some cases. I got comp’d a family-sized banana pudding. There’s just nothing like local, and COVID-19 is turning out to be local’s nemesis.
It’s no secret that we are pro small business at Main and Mulberry. Don’t get me wrong, Wal-Mart, used as an example of big-box retailers here, adds value to nearly every community in which it is located. Creating jobs and selling low cost goods are unquestionable assets. However, they are rocking. Big-box stores are mostly considered essential and, even if not, have enough square feet that occupancy restrictions have little effect on sales. But small business is getting hammered.
Consider Nathan Glen, a family-owned restaurateur in Jackson, MS since 1984, who simply can’t make a profit only seating every other table – profits that Nathan reinvests in his local area. Another, Jim’s Place Grille, a fine-dining establishment in Tennessee, operating since 1921, that is suffering with empty event rooms and near zero catering opportunities.
It certainly doesn’t stop with restaurants, as less tourism is affecting local merchants in small towns who suffer from less foot traffic, typically coming from events and conventions. Destinations like Hot Springs, AR, which features a downtown strip full of local shops, are experiencing seven-figure losses made up of revenue and tourism tax, according to Bill Solleder, Director of Hot Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau. It’s hard to even talk about Sole Proprietors, like photographer Cindy Thymius who, after operating for two decades, was temporarily shut down after being labeled as “non-essential.”
Small businesses touch us all in one way or another. You can hear the pain in her voice as Joann Massey, Director for the Office of Business Diversity in Memphis, TN, explains how already struggling minority small businesses are filing for bankruptcy due to COVID-19. It’s impactful to hear her calls of “spend where you live,” as she explains how supporting local helps with major issues like education, crime and overall quality of life.
As many local businesses have refocused like never before, they will survive. There are many causes right now in need of your time and money donations much more than any for-profit business. However, there are simple ways in which you can help, such as making sure every birthday gift you give comes from a local business, eating curbside, helping to promote a local business on social media, or providing free or discounted professional services to locals.
The person in line next to you, the person sitting beside you in church and the person in the school car line isn’t going to ask you for help – because that’s not what small business is about. It’s about keeping your nose to the grindstone and building your business with sweat. So, if you’re in a position to help, they sure could use a towel.