Small businesses across the nation are feeling the negative effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, especially the social restrictions it necessitates. Until the public health crisis subsides, front-line decisions made by municipalities remain vital, and Main Street programs and other community stakeholders need to help make the case for an economic response on the local level that directly supports merchants, struggling to know what tomorrow holds. The question remains, how?
First, it is important to acknowledge that local officials are not exempt from the angst felt throughout communities across the country. They are seeking to identify the most equitable and impactful response to mitigate economic disruption, as well as concerned about their own financial capacity to help small businesses and working families weather the storm.
Nonetheless, key stakeholders must rally together, and community testimonials have indicated that when business owners and/or leaders join alongside one another for a “unified ask,” the response from local government can often equal the power behind the request. By forming a coalition, advocates can encourage place-based governance that focuses on collective action while emphasizing that proactive measures taken to support small businesses serve as a worthwhile investment.
The restaurants, bars, specialty shops, hardware stores and other mom and pop shops that create jobs and lend unique character to our cities are at severe economic risk right now. The places that have protected their Main Streets will have a decisive competitive advantage as we return to normalcy. – Richard Florida and Steven Pedigo, How Our Cities Can Reopen after the COVID-19 Pandemic
Small businesses need to survive. As the backbone of our communities and local economies, it is time that local officials offer them a lifeline. Recovery efforts will be less challenging for localities if actions are taken now to alleviate the burden and uncertainty as merchants face drops in revenues and mandatory closures to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
Here are a few examples of how localities are supporting and promoting businesses during this sensitive period:
- The city of Danville determined that restaurants may defer the payment of their February meals tax collection for one month with no penalty. The same offer applies to hotels and their occupancy and room night taxes.
- The town of South Hill notified residents and businesses that water and sewer charges will be reduced by 20% through the month of May, and customers will not be disconnected for failure to pay, plus late charges are waived.
- Given that small businesses struggle to build up cash reserves that will help get them through a rough patch, various localities, in coordination with Main Street programs, are developing no-interest (emergency) loan pool programs for small businesses owners that offer quick sources of cash flow.
- The city of Fredericksburg (Economic Development and Tourism Department) has been developing a website that includes a directory on what businesses are doing during the COVID-19 crisis, as well as other “local” promotions.
- The city of Harrisonburg helped to create and install “quick pick up” signage throughout downtown, as well as great “Think Local” signs through its tourism office to bolster awareness and support.