How to help small businesses survive coronavirus

Rachel Marshall, owner of Rachel’s Ginger Beer, is now relying on gift card purchases and online orders to keep her Seattle soda business alive since Washington Governor Jay Inslee this week ordered restaurants and bars across the state to close because of the coronavirus outbreak

Her restaurants remain open to handle takeout and delivery orders, but customers have slowed to a trickle. Sales across her four locations, all in formerly bustling retail hubs, have plunged by 90% since the state’s mandate took effect. 

“No one is showing up and we are firmly operating in the red now, but people are buying gift cards and ordering online, for which I am really grateful,” Marshall told CBS MoneyWatch.

For small business owners suddenly deprived of customers, such support from patrons can can spell the difference between surviving the pandemic and closing their doors forever. Here are some ways to help make sure your favorite local business is still around when the crisis abates.

Buy a gift card 

Business owners say they appreciate the gesture both as a sign of customer loyalty and for the immediate infusion of cash that gift cards provide.

Paula Flynn, founder of the Shopkeepers, a website that profiles independent stores in cities around the world, urged consumers to buy $25 gift cards to five of their favorite stores for future use. 

Bars, restaurants shut across U.S. over coronavirus concerns

“I’m conflicted about ordering non-essential goods at the moment, because that means a human has to pack, ship and deliver, leaving them open to infection. That’s why I think gift certificates are best either for later use or for gifts,” she said. 

Julian Brizzi, managing partner of Rucola, an Italian eatery in Brooklyn, New York, is open for takeout and delivery and is also selling $100 gift cards for a discounted $75 on his website.

“Our neighbors are showing us support, and when we are able to reopen we look forward to giving them a 25% discount when they come back,” Brizzi said. 

Order out

Order food from restaurants that still offer pick-up and delivery services. Shop for other merchandise, like tavern t-shirts and tumblers, too. Ask restaurants if they’ll consider selling perishable food items that they have in stock but that might no longer be available at grocery stores or online retailers.   

Ned Baldwin, owner of Houseman Restaurant in Manhattan’s Soho neighborhood, is setting up a pop-up grocery store in Long Island, New York, with the remaining inventory — including paper towels and toilet paper — from the restaurant he closed temporarily this week. 

“I took inventory and pictures of everything and sent an email offering it to my community in Long Island and the response was overwhelming,” Baldwin told CBS MoneyWatch.

He plans to set up shop at an out-of-use farm stand where he will pack customer orders in bags that they can collect without any physical interaction. 

Shop local — but online

McNally Jackson Books, an independent bookseller in New York City, said its Soho store and cafe is “closed for browsing but open for business.” The store will ship orders placed through its website anywhere in the U.S. New Yorkers can also buy books over the phone and retrieve them at the store’s front door. 

The strategy seems to be working, owner Sarah McNally said: “We are doing a ton, a ton, a ton of web sales. Our customers have really come through for us.”

Keeping the revenue flowing via those online sales has allowed her to keep a skeleton staff on the job to process orders. “We are very much open for business, and the community has been wonderful about rallying around us,” McNally said. 

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Chickees Vintage, a clothing store in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, also has moved all of its sales online. Its owner, Kathleen Sorbara, has been selling merchandise through Instagram and her website. For customers who wish to try clothes on in person before buying, gift cards are available. 

“Before this, about 10% of our sales came from online. Now it’s all we are doing,” she said. “It’s still slow, though, so I have suggested that people who want to support our business buy gift cards.” 

Take a virtual fitness class

Gyms around the U.S. are also closing to contain the coronavirus. Yet while facilities may have temporarily closed their doors, many fitness clubs are streaming workouts online that people can join from home or do outside on on their own.  

Mile High Run Club, which offers treadmill-based interval and strength training classes in New York City, this week started streaming free, donation-based virtual classes through its Instagram account. Donations go directly to the coaches. 

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The club’s goal while its physical studios are closed is “to keep our community together and the lines of communication between us and runners open,” head coach Corinne Fitzgerald told CBS MoneyWatch. 

The studio will also start selling its branded retail items online. Proceeds will go toward an emergency fund for all Mile High Run Club employees, including its cleaning crew and front desk employees. 

“Those are two ways in which we are open and people can support our business,” Fitzgerald said. 

Contribute to — or start — a GoFundMe campaign

Consider donating to an online fundraiser or starting one on behalf of a business whose sales have been wiped out. 

More than 10,000 GoFundMe campaigns have raised tens of millions of dollars for individuals and businesses affected by the coronavirus, according to the crowdfunding site’s CEO, Tim Cadogan. 

GoFundMe has launched a centralized hub for all coronavirus-related fundraisers for those who wish to donate to specific causes. It also created its own general relief fund for individuals affected by the pandemic, local charities supporting their communities and other organizations. 

“During this incredibly challenging time we are seeing a huge number of fundraisers across a wide variety of needs — from people directly impacted and small businesses forced to close, to organizations on the ground helping with the pandemic,” Cadogan said in a statement to CBS MoneyWatch. 

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West Newton Cinema, an independent movie theater in West Newton, Massachusetts, is using the fundraising platform to raise money and help keep the family-run business alive after being open for more than 40 years.

In Baltimore, a dance teacher started a GoFundMe campaign for the city’s Mobtown Ballroom after its owners were forced to close the facility because of the virus outbreak. 

“As an entertainment and events venue, Mobtown has been hit hard by the pandemic. The funds will go towards paying for rent, insurance and utilities while the business cannot make their regular revenue,” its organizer said. The campaign has surpassed its $10,000 goal and raised $20,210.

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